A close friend of mine recently experienced a great loss and it shook me to the core. I was sad for her, the pain I knew she would have to face, the loss I felt as well, but also (and this freaked me out) the realisation that there was nothing I could do or say to take any of that away.
Ok, let’s talk about grief.
On 15 July 2020 my dad would be dead for ten years. Quite a morbid sentence to start with, I know. But the reality is not always unicorns pooping glitter (even if we wish it was). Before 15 July 2010, I, still a teenager, knew very little about pain, grief, and just how shitty life can be. Since then life has pretty much thrown a lot of crap at me. Well, that’s how I feel, but you might read this and think, “Yeah right, I’ve been through much worse.” And that brings me to what I’m actually musing about: The biased nature of suffering and healing and how unique it is to each human.
A close friend of mine recently experienced a great loss and it shook me to the core. I was sad for her, the pain I knew she would have to face, the loss I felt as well, but also (and this freaked me out) the realisation that there was nothing I could do or say to take any of that away. I wanted to help my friend and take all that grief away. Most of us do. We want to take out the duct tape and put everything together again. The sad reality is that we can’t. There is absolutely nothing you can do to heal another’s pain. Let that sink in.
The truth is that our greatest efforts at helping can cause even greater harm. When I was in mourning for my father (about which I was in denial for two years, and then used substances to numb the pain for another two) many friends tried to help. They sent messages, held interventions (not kidding), organized socials, and did everything they could think of to make it better… but they couldn’t. And they didn’t understand that.
No, it did not happen for a reason; my f@!*n dad died for goodness sake! No, I do not want you to pray for me! I want to shout at the top of my lungs about how angry I am at God for taking my dad away before he even had the chance to walk me down the aisle! And no, I do not want to talk! I don’t have anything to say! I don’t even know how I am feeling!
I couldn’t actually say any of this, so I pushed them away. It was too much work to grieve AND to have to help others cope with how to deal with my grief.
Over the years, and through therapy, I’ve realised that humans project fears, feelings, doubts on to other humans. We project our ideas onto their journey. However, healing is not linear. The way they process, and deal is so unique to their journey. Take my close friend for example, I didn’t want people to pray for me while I was healing, so I decided that she wouldn’t want it either.
I was so wrong.
It was exactly what she needed at the moment and I had to put my ideas, needs and fears away so that I could be there while she sat with the pain, the way that she needed me to. I also had to be vulnerable and to share my pain and how I was hurt. I had to show how far I had come on my journey of healing so that she could see there was hope (albeit super dim and very far away).
Now, I know it’s unsolicited, but here’s my advice. If you know someone who’s going through a tough time, just be there. Not hovering over them constantly like a grey cloud reminding them of how shit they’re already feeling.
Please do not do that. That sucks.
Remind them that you are there when they need you. Listen to them. If they change the subject from the pain to talking about a cute guy they saw the other day, do not change it back because you have decided that they need to talk about the pain. Indulge them. A good laugh and idle dreaming help with the healing. Also, listen to their body language. If they’re quiet, be quiet with them. If they cry, allow the tears to wet your shoulders. Be present.
If you are the person who is healing. Be honest with your loved ones. It takes courage and you are going to be vulnerable, but tell them about your needs and speak up when their actions make it difficult for you.
Lastly, for both the healer and friend. It takes time. Nothing happens quickly. On 15 July it will be ten years since my dad died and on some nights I still cry as if it happened yesterday. Be patient with yourself. Allow good and bad days. When you think things are going great and a gust of grief pulls you down into the depths, remember: healing is not linear. Do not let Hollywood or socials dictate how you should heal.
I have learned recently that pain is pain, and it’s very subjective. I’ve used the death of a loved one as an example, but, for your friend, a break-up with a guy you never liked could be extremely painful. Be respectful of what that person experiences and allow them to heal as they need. There is no easy way or “List of 10 things you can do when your friend goes through shit”. There are just the basics. Be human. Be real and remember, it’s not about you.