“How Can I Help?”

by Megan Brice, M.S.

I’ve always been a sensitive person. When I was 7, the little girl next door to me passed away. I don’t remember much about her but my parents like to recount the story attributing it to the first time they noticed my empathy in action. Although I didn’t know her much, I was friends with her younger brother. The day she passed away, I went over to their house to find her little brother crying on the stairs leading up to the door. I had no words, I had never experienced death, grief, or heavy and real emotions. What do you say when someone you care about is hurting? Do I joke with him and make him laugh? Should I go tell my mom and leave him alone? I was scared and I felt his pain and loss. Even thinking about it now, I remember how it felt heavy and empty all at the same time. It felt helpless because I didn’t know what to say. All I knew how to do was to sit and cry with him.

In the times that I doubt myself or wonder if I’m doing enough, I think about how all that boy needed in that moment was someone to sit and cry with him. That’s often all we need when things get rough. I get asked frequently by friends, family, coworkers, and clients, “what can I do when someone I love is experiencing a difficult time?”. People want distinct answers. Solutions to these uncomfortable problems. But really, there is no set standard for what you can do. I wish it was as simple as “ask the person x, they will respond y, then everything is solved!” It’s not that easy.

…But is it?

In today’s world there’s an expectation to solve, fix, and come to resolution. But more often than not, people don’t want a solution when they are going through a difficult time. Think about a time where you’ve felt hopeless, or lonely, or sad. In that moment, does it help when people suggest “pulling it together” or “here’s what I did and what you should do”? Not all the time.

So my answer to the question of what you should do when you care about someone and don’t want to see them hurt is; listen and love them. Listen without coming up with your next response. Listen and love without judgment or expectation from them. Hold their space while they go through their emotional storm. Sit and cry with them.

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