Life is full of trails and tribulations, ups and downs, highs and lows. The good times are usually easy to navigate, but the tough times are what can be confusing or even awkward at times.
Maybe your friend just went through a break-up, lost a loved one, lost their job, or had a falling out with a family member. Hard times come in all shapes and sizes. Part of being a good friend is being there for the good times and the bad. Regardless, responding to tragedy in a friend’s life can be a tricky thing. Sometimes we want to help, but just have no idea how to go about it.
Below is my best advice for comforting a friending going through a tough time. Note: Not all of these suggestions will apply to every situation. Use your own personal judgement as to if they’re appropriate for your situation.
First and foremost, reach out to your friend. This can be hard to do sometimes because sometimes when tragedy hits our first response can be to give that person space to process things. This is always my first reaction. However, you can still give someone space while simultaneously reaching out. Send them a text or call them. Let them know you’re sorry for their situation and that you’re here for them. If they need space or aren’t ready to face others yet, they’ll refrain from responding right away. Even if they don’t respond, I can guarantee they appreciate your gesture.
Let them know you’re thinking of them
Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words (or any words) to say during a difficult time. Start with telling them you’re thinking about them or praying for them. Don’t feel the need to tell them something magical or try and fix things. Just tell them you’re sorry their going through this and you’re thinking of them. Sometimes just knowing you’re in someones thoughts can really be of comfort when times are tough.
Listen to them and avoid giving advice unless they ask
If they don’t want to talk about it, then don’t push them. Let them talk if they need to or want to, but just listen. This can be hard because a lot of times we want to fix things or “say the right thing”, but during a tragic or upsetting time, the most important thing is that they get their feelings out if need be.
Focus on really genuinely listening to what they have to say and avoiding giving advice unless you’re asked for it. If advice is what they need then they’ll ask for it. If they don’t ask for it, keep it to yourself. Avoid making their tragedy or difficulty about you by comparing it to your situation.
It can be easy to feel like we need to rush right into the “I know how you feel” bit, but use caution. Unless you’ve gone through literally the exact same situation as they are avoid saying “I know how you feel”, because honestly, you probably don’t know how they’re feeling.
Do something nice for them
My senior year in high school I lost my grandmother suddenly. I was devastated. A group of my classmates who I’d been in school with since kindergarten got together and sent me a beautiful fern. When I got there I read the card and just started bawling immediately. It had been such a tough week, but just that small gesture filled my heart so much. I to this day – 9 years later – I still have that plant, and it makes me smile every time I look at it.
It doesn’t have to be something extravagant or super expensive. Something as small as sending them a card or flowers, or even surprising them with their favorite Starbucks drink can really make a difference for someone who’s going through a tough time.
Ask if you can do anything to help
Last but not least, ask if there’s anything you can do to help. A lot of the time when tragedy hits it’s followed by a lot of chaos. If your friend has lost a loved one maybe that means bringing her family a hot meal, or looking after their dog while they prepare for funeral arrangements. If your friend just lost their job, maybe that means helping them spruce up their cover letter. Sometimes what they need most is nothing we would have ever guessed. Asking them flat out if there’s anything you can do to help is the best way to know how you can elevate some of the stress of the situation.