It’s quite possible that the only thing that’s worse than going through a difficult time, is when you have to watch someone you care about do it. You want to take their pain away, but you don’t know how you would ever be able to, and you’re awfully stuck in a corner while you wonder what it takes to glue a smile onto someone’s face.
I believe that we have all been in that corner at some point in our lives. It doesn’t matter what the person is going through – if it hurts them, and we care about them, then we obviously want to help. You want to take their hand and walk with them down the dark path, or force the shadows away like a glorious sun. Sometimes, the only thing that makes us unable to is that we don’t know exactly how to handle it. Yes, I’ve been there: A few months after I’d met my current best friend on the Internet, her father passed away. And there I was, stuck in the corner. I knew that I cared about her and that I wanted to make her feel better, but I feared that I was going to make everything worse.
Therefore, I didn’t offer my condolences on the post that she’d written like a hundred of other people. Instead, I waited until she reached out to me, which brings me to my first point:
You can’t help someone if they don’t want you to. Until a person actually wants to speak to you about their pain, you can’t make them. I think it’s really important when helping someone through heartache to always make sure that it’s on their terms. Please don’t urge them into deep conversations about things that they aren’t ready to talk about.
Eleven months after my best friend’s father passed, her mother did. I remember going to school sobbing and feeling nauseous, because she lived so far away and I couldn’t be there for her. Anyway, the next time I saw her, I said that I could come to the funeral and asked her: “Do you want me there? Would it be easier if I was there?” And she said: “Yes, but…” I told her not to tell me what not to do, that it would be no burden for me to come. Finally, she gave in. I believe that it is extremely important that the people we care about are aware that they will never be burdens to us, that we would gladly take some weight off their shoulders if they let us. The minute they know that you don’t mind helping them as much as you can, they will have an easier time accepting that help.
It doesn’t really matter what type of pain they’re feeling as long as they know that you will always be there if they need someone. Maybe, there will be times where they don’t necessarily need your hugs or your reassurance, but the fact that they are able to count on you, will always matter.
Remember, killing darkness and healing takes a lot of time, depending on whom the person is. Some might be over it relatively quickly, and if they are, then please don’t reopen those scars and make the wounds bleed again by bringing up what happened. If they are just putting on a fake smile, chances are that you will know the first time it happens, since true happiness plants flowers in people’s hearts, and the garden that grows within it will show in their eyes, too.
In my case, I will say that my best friend is an extremely resilient person, yet while her strength alone can carry an entire mountain, her selflessness is what has turned her into Atlas. Often, she’d hide her own tears, so that her younger siblings would be able to cry rivers. And one evening I talked to her about this – how she deserved and needed to cry as much as they did. Afterwards, she tried to think of some memory that would make the tears spill, but nothing did. In the end, I realized this, and I just caressed the palm of her hand.
It hurt to watch her unable to let her feelings out, but I couldn’t change that, and neither could she. If you come to a point like this, it’s important to not give up…
However, something that is perhaps more crucial is that – when helping a loved one – is that you need to understand that you’re not a therapist after all. Caring about a person while knowing the depths of their problems and pain can be very emotional. Of course, you need to listen to the person that you’re helping, but you also need to remember to take care of yourself. I’m not saying that you should ever choose to dismiss them if they need you, yet it’s certainly necessary that you look after yourself.
Find something that soothes you, and do it. For me, it’s writing. It could be anything from listening to music to taking a walk in the woods, as long as it makes you feel comfortable and at peace. Your mental health is as important as anyone else’s.
Although healing is a very slow process more often than not, it’s wonderful. When you reach a point where you can see that your presence in someone’s darkness has brightened everything, it’s most likely going to make you feel the happiest you’ve ever felt. And while you might have to realize that you can’t help everybody, it’s when you succeed that it matters. It strengthens relationships, which is something that my best friend and I have talked about often, because we doubt that we would have the amazing friendship that we have now, had I not insisted on helping her three years ago. We’ve stayed by each other’s sides since then.
Helping someone through the difficult times in their life is far from a walk on roses, and it takes a lot of persistence, but in the end, nothing could be more worth the struggle.
You can find out more about Josefine on her author page.