We’ve all been there.
That moment when you hear the news. The horrible, tragic, shocking news. Someone you love and care about is going through something terrible. Something you never saw coming. It can shake you to your core. It can shut you down and open floodgates. It can throw you for a loop or drop you to your knees. It could be a cancer diagnosis. A sudden death. A lawsuit. A divorce. Whatever it is, it’s a crisis that leaves you saying ‘ohmigawd, I just can’t believe this happened!’
Then you wonder what do I do? What do I say? Should I even reach out to them? What if I say the wrong thing and just make it worse?
And those are valid concerns. I know I’ve put my foot in my mouth more times than I’d like to admit. And when you’re in that situation I know it can feel like you’re alone on some crazy mountaintop in a cold and unforgiving wind.
So when someone is in crisis, think of them as being at the peak of that gargantuan mountain.
Look up (wayyy up) and see that they’re up there alone. It’s their climb. Their mountain. They can scream anything they want from the top of that mountain. Scream at the top of their lungs to the heavens above ‘Why me?!? Why now?! I hate this!!!’ That’s the privilege they’re bestowed once they find themselves at the top of that scary-ass mountain. Scream, kick, cry, throw things, pull their hair out, whatever they want to do, they can do. Without judgment and without worry.
Think of looking at this mountain like a topographical map. They’re at the peak, then the concentric circles that show the various elevations of the mountains are where ‘their people’ are. Their partner is likely in the first circle, then their parents and closest friends in the next circle. Then perhaps their co-workers, other friends, and so on fill out the rest of the circles. But basically, their nearest and dearest, their most intimate circles are with them near the top. As they should be, those people are their biggest support…and they need your support.
If you have ever climbed up anything bigger than you, you know how hard it is to speak/scream uphill to someone. And that’s what you have to remember when someone is in crisis.
You can’t scream uphill.
You don’t have the privilege of yelling ‘why me’ or ‘I hate this’. Nope. You’re not at the top of that mountain – they are. Sure you may find yourself saying things like ‘I can’t believe this is happening! Why me?!?’ and you CAN say and feel those things, but not UP the mountain! Nope. You only get to do those things with people in your circle or lower. For the people above…
You can only show your support.
And you do this by saying things like ‘I’m with you. I love you.’ or ‘I don’t know what to say but I’m here for you.’
And be careful of trying to ‘outdo’ their suffering by saying things like ‘that’s nothing, my sister-in-law’s-2nd-cousin had THIS happen to them!’ Nope. No one wants to feel like they’re nothing by you saying ‘that’s nothing’.
Empathize. Listen. Be a strong shoulder and a soft landing.
And know that the people in the circles above you can scream down at you too, that’s their right as well. But again, you can’t scream up at them. You can only show your support.
Of course you’re going to want to talk through your pain as well, but you have to do it to someone in your circle or lower. Talk to your partner, your friends, someone who can empathize and listen to what YOU’RE going through.
Or when all else fails, I find a good cry works…so does my fellow Canuck, Holly Cole. These lyrics are chock-full of excellent advice like:
“Well it’s empty and it’s ugly and it’s terribly sad, I can’t feel what you feel, but I know it feels bad. I know that it’s real and it makes you so mad. You can cry if you want to. Cry if you want to. I won’t tell you not to, I won’t try to cheer you up, I’ll just here if you want me, to be, near you.”