20 January 2013

Issues: How to Help a Friend Who Is Having a Crisis

A Friend In Need
     I was sitting in class at 9am last spring waiting for it to start when my phone started to ring.  See, this is an anomaly all on its own just because a) I don't have many friends b) none of my friends are up at 9am unless they have somewhere to be.  I walked out of the room to take the call.  My best friend Z was stifling her tears and in her garbled speech told me that her Grandpa passed away suddenly and requested that I come over after class.  I told her I would, but honestly, I had no idea if I wanted to.  I'm very awkward when it comes to grief.  I've known Z for about eight years and I didn't even know that she was so close to her Grandpa.  She is not a dramatic girl and I only ever see her sad when she really feel it.

     I knew I couldn't be good enough of a rock on my own.  I called my other best friend M and told her what happened.  She said that she would stop by and that we should bring Z some treats.  I sat through class  but my mind was not there.  I felt sad for Z but the selfish side of me wanted skip out on seeing her.  I just didn't know what to do or say, but then it hit me.  You don't need to do or say anything.  Yes, it's awkward and painful to see a loved one in pain.  But you need to suck it up and be comforting because at the moment, your problems are not significant.  My best friend's feelings took over my own and I drove to a nearby grocery store to pick up some cookies and a small serving of ice cream for Z's sister and made my way to her house.

     Z and I wrapped ourselves in a hug and I let her cry her little heart out and cuddle up next to me.  Physical contact is highly underrated and a simple hug can help a person feel better.  Even if you aren't a touchy person, try to muster up a hug.  We chatted about how it happened and then, suddenly, we didn't.  We talked about everything under the sun, except what happened.  I let her lead the conversation wherever she wanted it to go, and although she didn't exactly feel happy again (why would I expect her to?), she was talking and not crying anymore.  M showed up and brought pizza and we made a little party out of this.

     Sadness brought us together.  Z, M, and I have been friends since high school but college had us treading new paths.  It took a period of weakness to reinforce our friendship.  I am thankful that I could have been there physically and emotionally because I learned a lot about how to be there for someone.

How to Help a Friend

     Death.  Divorce.  Break-ups.  Finances.  School.  Family.  Friends.  Arguments.  These are just some of the things that can cause a crisis.  Depending on the type of friend you have, he or she may not explicitly ask you for consolation or help.  This does not give you a ticket to bail on your friend and ignore the matters at hand.  I'm going to attempt to help you help someone else.  Keep in mind these are just guidelines.  You know your friend best.

  1. Don't pry.  Now just because you should be there doesn't mean you should be a pest.  Ask how your friend is doing and feeling.  Be a good listener.  They don't want to talk about it?  Okay.  That is okay.  Now leave it be.  But please, be sensitive.
  2. Let them lead.  Not everyone actively leads conversations or activities.  Try to put the focus on your dear buddy.  Let them dictate what you do when you hang out and don't complain or agitate them if you are bored.  Gently goad your friend towards conversation and/or their more normal behavior.
  3. Listen.  Ranting helps a lot of us get matters off our mind.  Let your friend cry if they need to.  Just don't be rude and interrupt.  If you must leave, offer to meet up again or communicate other ways.
  4. Know some signs.  Deviations from your loved one's normal behavior are likely to be apparent.  They may hit a low or they may hit a manic high where they exaggerate their usual behaviors.  Steer events back to normal.  Make a joke, play a game, go for a walk.  Keeping the mind busy helps an individual focus less on pain.
  5. Give advice only when it is asked for.  People typically don't want to listen to what you think is sage advice when they don't care for it.  Speak your peace only when your friend alludes to wanting some advice or outright asks you for it.
  6. Protect your friend.  Your friend may "crack", or suddenly grieve.  If you don't feel that you have anything helpful to say, just listen.  Let your friend let their feelings out.  Make sure they don't do anything dangerous.  Everybody reacts to situations differently and if you truly love your friend...
  7. Ask for help if you need it.  Sometimes you can do everything you can and it still won't be enough.  It's okay to consult someone else if matters get out of hand.  While I understand that some matters are secrets, it's up to you to decide what secrets are worth keeping.
     Sometimes you can't physically be there.  And I understand, we all have our own lives to deal with and that may mean living far away from your loved ones.  Phone, Skype, GChat, e-mail.  Technology can connect us all.  Part of being a friend is handling the bad moments as much as enjoying the good ones.

     If you made it this far down my post, congratulations!  You must be such a good friend looking for how to be helpful.  Now go, help your buddy out of their slump!!!  Life is too short to grieve, and if you can help someone out of their sadness, more power to you.

     I hope you all enjoyed this type of post.  Please let me know if things just got too serious or if you like to tackle issues like this.  A lot of people are awkward (me included) when it comes to helping a friend overcome sadness.  The least you can do is try, and maybe that small effort will make a big difference.

Happy trails,



  1. This such an in-depth and thoughtful post Sweeney. So lovely to read x


    1. Thank you so much for reading! I appreciate it.