When our friend is hurting, we want to comfort him.
Even when we’re not sure how.
I want to try and describe what it’s been like to receive comfort and encouragement since my dad’s suicide. Not to embarrass anyone or to complain or anything, but because I’m learning that even comforting others can be messy business.
It’s been my experience that nearly everyone wants to help somehow, but very few really know how. Which is completely understandable. Heck, I don’t really even know how! One thing I’ve noticed is that people give advice that I know intellectually is good, but I still have a hard time putting it into practice. For instance, I’ve been told by many to focus on good memories of my dad. I’ve done this and will continue to, but at this point even good memories make me sad. They’re still shocking. Like, yesterday I was driving to meet some friends at a restaurant and passed my kids’ old pre-school on the way. I remembered my dad coming to their Christmas concerts and how he’d sit with them and help decorate cookies and let them show him around their classroom…and those are really good memories. But, they surprised me and they made me sad. And I know being sad is ok – even good – it’s just hard. Some day I know I’ll be able to remember things fondly, but it feels like that might be a while yet.
Then there’s this: My friend Cabell tragically and unexpectedly lost her dad when she was young and I remember her telling me years ago about this phenomenon wherein the one who needs comfort essentially has to become the comforter. This happens because people want to help, but they’re not sure what to say or do, so then it becomes my job to let them know that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, it just…is. I find myself doing it quite often now. “I’m so, so sorry…I don’t know what to say…” someone tells me. “It’s ok. I know. Thank you,” I reply.
Even heartfelt condolences and encouragement are tough. I sent out an update for the Kickstarter project the other day and, honestly, I was scared to. I was scared because I knew people were going to send me messages saying how sorry they were and how much they cared about me and that they’d be praying for me and my family at Christmas…which is exactly what happened. I knew it would, too, because I know the incredible character of the people in the Living One-Handed Family. And I knew that every message would make me cry (they did), which is great, don’t get me wrong! I’m a huge fan of crying, I’ve just been doing a lot of it and it’s exhausting. And honestly, part of me feels like I don’t deserve it. Even so, every message reminds me that there are people who love and care about me and that makes me feel really good.
“So, what’s the answer, Ryan? How do I comfort those who have experienced tragic loss?”
I can tell you that for me the answer is simple: Hugs. Freakin’ hugs, man. I can’t get enough of ‘em. Hugs don’t need words. To me, hugs mean love. When you hug me, you’re comforting me in ways words can only dream about. “Man, I wish I could be a hug,” words say.
Some people don’t like hugs, though. And that’s ok. I pray for them.
In general, I think simply telling someone you care about them and that you’re there for them is enough. If you actually want to be a part of the healing process, ask how we’re doing, but I’ll be honest – it’s hard to know how honest to be when asked that question.
The truth is, comforting someone during and after a traumatic event is really stinkin’ hard. That’s just the truth. We all do our best to muddle through; the comforters and the comforted. Laugh together, cry together, get mad together, stare off into the sunset together…this is all messy, but as long as we know that, let’s just love each other through it the best we can.
And more hugs.
If you’re into that.