How to Support a Friend in Devastating Times

Set yourself reminders

The first thing I suggest doing is to put important dates in your calendar as recurring yearly events. My date is July 25th. The first year, some people remembered. The 2nd year, some people forgot. The other day, my friend asked me “what do you want me to do on that date?” It was difficult to answer, it’s hard to ask for help. I’m scared of being self-centered and guilting people into doing things. Also, I have no idea how I’ll be feeling that day and feel bad about asking someone to be available if there’s a chance I’ll want to be alone. I guess all I can do is communicate and trust my friends’ ability to judge and decide for themselves.

Be available and make sure the person knows

I wasn’t expecting people to be available for me all the time, but it was hard for me to know if I was being too much. I felt insecure about it. If you are willing to get a phone call in the middle of the night, if you are willing to have them over for a sleepover or for dinner anytime, if you are willing to sleepover, say it. Communicate it clearly and repeat it. Seriously, REPEAT IT every month for the next year.

Hugs are the best

When you see the emotions bubbling up, go in for a big hug. Expect snot on your shirt. Keep tissues in your pockets.

Be aware of compartmentalizing

When going through trauma or any type of difficult event, a person needs to compartmentalize to get through the day. I felt like some people were judging me for not spending months stuck to my bed crying. I was still laughing and doing stupid things with friends. Still, many nights, I cried myself to sleep and cried waking up knowing that I had to face another day. Two years later, I’m still dealing with periods of intense grief.

Give the space for the person to mention or not mention what they are going through

Sometimes, I needed to get my mind off things. Other times, I needed to talk about it but didn’t know how to bring up the subject. Remember that, in this article, I’m talking about something that was devastating, traumatic for your friend. This means that the emotions are overwhelming and dark and you don’t want to be the one bringing that to the surface.

Minimize the mental load when offering support

I understand the “if you need anything, let me know”, but really it’s empty words and adds a mental load on the person. And let’s say the person does ask for something and you can’t do it? I never replied to that type of offer because I knew I’d just be setting myself up for disappointment, a feeling that would plunge me further into darkness. Figure out what you are willing to do and suggest it clearly. You can easily find ideas on the internet.

Keep your guilt and excuses to a minimum

There are times when you won’t be able to show up because you have other priorities. There are times when you’ll say the wrong thing. There are years when you’ll forget about that important date. Apologize but don’t over do it and don’t expect a big answer. The person has no energy to deal with that. Don’t make this about you. If you need to express just how horrible you feel, find someone else to do it with.

Careful not to judge and think twice before giving advice

Unless the person is your life partner or someone you live with, you have a very limited view of the many coping mechanisms the person is using to stay sane so don’t judge.

Be reliable and trustworthy

Just be on time, don’t cancel, don’t be flaky. This is not the time to be wishy washy, I might have work to do, depends on this or that, maybe I can, maybe I can’t bulls**t. The person needs to feel as secure as possible and that uncertainty does the opposite. I was losing my mind, my life had been turned upside down and I didn’t know what I could hold on to. Don’t create expectations if you can’t commit.

Keep reaching out, needing them and inviting them

In the past two years, even if I didn’t want to socialize, I still wanted to be needed and invited…without the pressure of showing up. Sometimes I answered and other times I didn’t. It was nice to have those options available. It helped in feeling less alone. Eventually, when I started feeling better, I answered. I’m still in the process of opening myself up. My circle is getting bigger and bigger.

Prepare the field…or not?

I had a lot of anxiety about social events. I was afraid of people asking triggering questions. It was hard to climb out of darkness once I was in it. This is tricky because I know that we all have different levels of what we want to keep private. I’m just going to share this anecdote and I’ll let you decide what to do with it.

Watch out for…

Watch out for emotional blackmail. This situation will bring out the best and worst in people. There is the risk of the person using it to manipulate and guilt you into doing something. Also, physical and mental abuse are never acceptable.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself

Your friendship, for at least a year, won’t be 50/50. Relationships never are. There are periods when it’s one’s turn to be needing more, then it’s the other person’s turn and hopefully it balances out in the long run. In the context of your friend having gone through a devastating event, the relationship will be focused on them and your expectations should be lowered. For how long is this acceptable? A year, two years, three years? It depends, you’ll have to gage.

Finally…

If you’re not sure about any of my suggestions, you can straight up send this article to your friend and ask “does any of this work for you?” They can copy-paste what does and doesn’t. It’s minimal effort. They might not have the mental energy to do it, and that’s fine because you showed that you love them and are proactive about giving your support.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Laura Nhem

Laura Nhem

2nd Gen Canadian. Decorator in the Montreal tv & film industry. One-time podcaster. Life is absurd.