How Can I Support a Loved One Through Hard Times?
Many people have experienced receiving tough news, witnessing the death of a loved one or having traumatic events happen in their lives. With this painful encounter comes myriad emotions, but perhaps most especially the typical five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Those who have gone through or are currently going through this process may feel lost or isolated. While seeing a loved one go through hard times is difficult, your words and actions may make them feel a little less alone.
Stop what you’re doing and just listen. There will be times for you to speak and voice your support, but above all, listen to what your loved one has to say. Unless they express that they want advice, this is not a time for it, and certainly not a time for judgment. Validate their emotions and be gentle and understanding with your loved one when it is your turn to speak. They may want to talk about the event in depth or they may want to talk about anything but. Sometimes there may be nothing to say at all. What matters is that you’re there for them.
Offer help wherever help is needed. While “I’m here if you need anything” is a well-intentioned statement, someone in the grieving process or someone flooded with deep emotions may not feel motivated to reach back out and respond. Sometimes the best assistance you can offer a loved one who is hurting is specific help. If the person feels up to you visiting, ask if they’d be willing to have you help around the house or you can offer to cook a meal. If not, you could drop off their favorite meals, offer to pick up their groceries for them or even drive them to a medical appointment.
Allow them space. Someone who is in pain may not want to be around anyone at all. This is a time where emotions from anger to fear to depression may be running rampant, so give your loved one space to process their emotions. You can still show your support from afar, whether through writing a card, sending a kind message or leaving them flowers or a gift. Be patient with those in your life who are hurting and know that they don’t mean to be short or push you away; experiencing hefty emotions is exhausting, and if your loved one expresses the desire to be left alone, the best way to show support may be to follow their lead and check in with them in a couple days.
Understand that everybody is different. Not everyone processes emotions the same way, so tips that helped you through a hard time may not always work for your loved one as well. As previously mentioned, the best starting point is to listen to the person who is hurting and aid them from there. Some may want you to be positive and affirming about their situation, while others may want realistic and deep conversations. Additionally, healing from trauma or overcoming grief is not a linear process, so recognize that some people may find peace more quickly than others; continue to check in on those in your life who are going through something difficult.
October is National Depression Awareness Education & Awareness Month, Domestic Awareness Month, Critical Awareness Month and Infant Loss Awareness Month. When having tough conversations, you don’t always need to know what to say; being with someone who is hurting may mean more than anything to them. Additionally, remember to be kind and gracious to everyone, even strangers—you never know what someone may be going through.
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