When there are no words, silence is okay. And cookies always help, preferably chocolate chip!
I’ve had several friends lately going through really, really rough times. I mean like WTF is going on in the Universe rough. Often, when we want to comfort and help a friend going through something awful, we are afraid of the silence. We visit, or call or message and we want to fill up the visit or the little message box with lots and lots of encouraging words. We want to find a reason and a solution for their pain. We don’t only do it because we want to make them feel better, or fix the problem, we do it because the world has once again proven to be unpredictable and untrustworthy and we desperately want to make sense of it all because it terrifies us!
It simply terrifies us beyond belief. If this awful thing could happen to this person I love, it could happen to me, at any moment. This illness, these marriage problems, this financial disaster, could happen to me at any moment too! And it has, and it could, and it probably will again.
So I remember back to my own desperate times and the things people did that really did help. It was those who just showed up. They had no great plans or solutions. The most they could offer was a bag of bagels, a hug, or a bottle of wine. They couldn’t fix it, and I didn’t expect them too. It was their presence that was comforting. It was all I needed.
I remember years ago I had a student in Adult Ed who was going through some stuff. On the day he came to pick up his diploma, the one he thought he’d never earn, it all came to a head. My boss came to find me because the student was sitting on the floor in the office sobbing and he didn’t know what to do. So I went into the office, sat on the floor next to him, put my hand on his shoulder to let him know I was there, and let him cry until he was done and ready to talk. Later he said that was just what he needed. Someone to just sit with him.
Sometimes, in our attempt to make sense of all our friend or loved one is going through, we ask lots and lots of questions, when what they really need is for us to just be there and be quiet. Sometimes they just need us to sit with them in their pain and their silence. Or sometimes they just need us to listen, to just listen to them go on and on and not offer any solutions. They know we don’t have the answers; they just want someone to hear them. That is so hard to do isn’t it? I know it’s hard for me! It’s even harder when it is someone you care about deeply.
When it is someone we love we desperately grasp for words, solutions, quick fixes, or witty sayings to make it better. We search for reasons and life lessons. We ask too many questions because we want to know all the details so we can fix this! Sometimes the struggle for the right thing to say becomes so hard we give up and avoid that person because their pain is so great and we just don’t know what to do with it.
What we really need to do is just say, “wow, this really sucks, I am so sorry for you.”
What we really need to do is check in often with things like “thinking of you” even if they never respond back. You have no idea how much knowing that you care may mean to them in that moment.
What you need to do is just go to them, bring a cup of coffee, and sit. If they need anything else, they will let you know.
It’s hard to be comfortable in the silence. It’s hard not to try to do or say anything and everything to fix whatever is going on. It’s hard to show up and be uncomfortable with tragedy. Do it anyway. Do it out of love and respect. Do it because when it is your turn, someone will do it for you. Just show up.
And bring cookies.