holidays + hard times
People are going to ask pointed questions and Uncle Earl might be straight up mean and hog the jello salad. Someone who's hurting probably doesn't have the emotional stamina to curb this kind of behavior from others. So if you notice it, step in. Intervene. Change the subject.
Jess shared last week about how the holidays can be hard for people. And today, I want to take that a step further. Because more than just empathy, people who are going through nasty stuff around the holidays need more than just a head tilt.
We need support.
Here's the quick and dirty:
My son has heart disease. We've known that since he was a day old. This fall we found out that it's progressed more aggressively than the doctors had thought and we're now working to stabilize the deterioration in preparation for a major surgery (likely summer of 2018). Personally, I feel like that's enough to be sad for the rest of my life, but there's also this: He has asthma too. When he was 4 weeks old he got RSV and his lungs never fully recovered. So every single time he's sick, it's a major ordeal. Oxygen checks and breathing treatments round the clock and visits and calls with specialists. And all the while, my mom brain is sounding alarm bells like no one's business because my baby doesn't just have a cold. He's sick. Like the kind they whisper in movies sick. The last 4 weeks, he's had pneumonia and a persistent cough and with every passing day, I can't help but wonder if this is making things worse and we don't even know it. And I cry because I am scared to death and because I want him to be OK and because he deserves better than to take seven daily medications and because he shouldn't have to feel awful all the time and because what if he's not OK?
Right now is freaking sad. And I'm not all holly jolly even though I desperately want to be carefree. Christmas is supposed to be exciting and joyful and there's this stark discrepancy between that and the gigantic weight on our hearts.
So yeah. Support. We need it.
And we know. It can be sublimely awkward trying to figure out what to say. We know you don't want to say the wrong thing or make us uncomfortable. But total silence is worse. Promise. So instead of just staying quiet for fear of ruffling feathers, we need you to know that you're gonna have to get weird.
For starters, go ahead and address it. Just say what you think.
Say, "I'm sorry if this is hard for you. Your first Christmas as a newly single person must be pretty freaking sad." Or how about, "I'm sure holidays are bittersweet with everything your family is dealing with. I'm thinking about you all the time."
You don't have to get into platitudes or parables or something deeply profound. Nothing you say will fix anything that's happening. People just need to know they're seen. So see them. Tell them.
Don't try to minimize their pain.
Any sentence that starts with "at least" is off limits. And is pretty much guaranteed to make the recipient tune you out immediately. The thing is, pain is pain. Of course there could be worse pain, other people are in pain, or one day the pain could be even bigger. Pain pain pain pain pain. There's no comparison. Hurt is hurt. So let them feel what they feel.
Act on thoughtful ideas.
If it occurs to you that the person struggling might like a swear word coloring book, send one. If you come across a .gif or a book or an article that relates to what they're going through, send a link. Drop off a coffee or their favorite chili just because. Send a freaking text. Let them know they're being thought of often. It doesn't have to be a huge grand gesture. People just want to know they aren't alone.
Intervene on their behalf.
People are gonna get weird. They're going to say dumb stuff like All Dogs go to Heaven or that this is all part of a plan. People are going to ask pointed questions and Uncle Earl might be straight up mean and hog the jello salad. Someone who's hurting probably doesn't have the emotional stamina to curb this kind of behavior from others. So if you notice it, step in. Intervene. Change the subject. Pull your bud to the side and remind them who they are. Remind them that you've got their back.
A simple, "How are you holding up?" is more valuable than we realize. It's normal to question whether or not you should bring it up, but chances are, the hard stuff is pretty front and center at this time of year, so you won't be dunking them by asking. They may have a lot to say, and they may change the subject quickly, but either way, they know they're being thought of. And that counts for a lot.
Oh, guys. Wouldn't it be cool if this was an article we didn't feel compelled to write? I sure think so. But dang it, people are sad. And they feel alone and maybe even like something's wrong with them because they're not feeling particularly jolly. So go and grab a hand. Remind them that they're seen and heard and not alone.