A friend has freakishly lost her hearing. Another friend is prepping for IVF. Another, her brother’s in jail. One mama is struggling adjusting to two kids in a year of lockdown and isolation. Too many friends mental health is failing.
So what can you do about it?
I’m a fixer and a helper. Many of us are. We feel good and valued when we can help others. We send meals and flowers and cards. We make ourselves available for all the phone calls. We send texts and emails and funny gifs to try to cheer them up. But I think I have the best thing you can do for a friend going through a hard time.
It’s the preface for a text or email that says: “YOU DONT HAVE TO RESPOND TO THIS.”
When I was miscarrying, I’d receive many texts from friends sharing their compassion and condolences. It was lovely but also overwhelming. I felt I had to respond to every single message. After all, here he/she/they were taking the time to reach out so I should’ve been thankful and grateful for the kindness. And I was! But I was grieving and the best and most needed grieving is done alone. But if someone had’ve said, “I know you’re going through a lot so you don’t have to reply to this but I just wanted to tell you I’m thinking of you and I’m here if you need me,” I would’ve cried with gratitude.
What a weight lifted. I don’t have to respond?! I can accept the message for what it is and not have to do anything about it? Yes, please! Thank you.
When your loved ones are struggling, it can feel like a big task for them to organize a reply, to think about how to respond or to engage with people. When I was losing my babies, I couldn’t even think about making meals or how to put one foot in front of the other, my grief was drowning. And being the fixer/helper I am, I felt obligated to acknowledge the help and love that was being extended to me. It felt like a burden to reply some days when all I really wanted was a dark hole and solitude. Good intentions go a long ways but they can feel burdensome when you feel like you must reciprocate when you really just want your dark hole instead.
It’s a blessing to have people love us. But it’s an even bigger blessing to have our loved ones love us during our hardships. Hard times can make us difficult people; unmoving, numb, irritated, depressing folx who need time and love and probably some drugs or therapy to see us through. To tell someone “you don’t need to respond” says, “Grieve. Yell. Cry. Cocoon. Mourn. Focus on that. Focus on healing.”
Next time, try this approach. I bet your loved one will appreciate the release of the burden to reply.