I’m getting to that age now where bad things are starting to happen to the good people in my life. Friends are enduring infidelity, divorce, death of spouses and parents – and I’m over here feeling like I should have my super-friend badge revoked for incompetence.
Remember how you felt the moment you realized you knew NOTHING about life? Mine came while I was being beaten by the hands of postpartum depression after my first son was born. I had done everything right so my expectation was that everything would GO right. My exceptional pregnancy routine would result in nothing but the best start for my baby and for me. WRONG.
One year into my battle through the darkest hell, (complete with one baby surgery, one full compliment of super-prohibitive baby allergies, and several total losses of perspective, lucidity and self control), life had beaten me swiftly and consistently into my humble new place in the world. What everyone else described as a bit of ‘humble pie’ felt more like having the ignorance of my youth slapped out of me at the jaw, followed by a prolonged period of eating crow.I was no longer anything special or important, but it came with a certain empowerment.
There is so much power in letting go of your convictions, judgments and alienating attitudes about shit you know nothing about. It was the single best thing that’s ever happened to my ‘person’, but it’s made me hyper-aware of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and of everything I don’t know (which is most things).
What to Say
The trouble with worrying about saying the wrong thing is that it often results in you saying nothing because you know you don’t have a right to an opinion or a judgment about someone’s pain. So although your intentions are purely of compassion, your girlfriendy execution goes tits-up. The battle you want to fight alongside of the people you love most gets the best of you before you can even establish a game plan. You’re left paralyzed and guilty (this, I would imagine, is less than helpful to the person with the real problem).
Maybe the hardest part about watching your grandparents lose their life-long friends, your friends lose their parents, or watching someone you love be drug through the trenches of disappointment and divorce is that even if you had the words – they wouldn’t make any fucking difference. It is what it is and it ain’t yours for changing.
If You’re Not Making it Worse, You Must be Helping
This is how I deal with this now: I stick my badge of inexperience right where everyone can see it and I lead with that. I don’t know how to lift their emotions, and I don’t know how to fix the assault on their heart.
There are a few things I do know though: I know how to listen without shock or judgment, I know how to cry with a friend, and I know how to do their laundry when they don’t have the capacity to mind the house and their kids are down to one sock. I know how to just be there – sometimes hovering and sometimes just a phone-call away. I’m trying this for now because it’s what I can offer in lieu of wisdom. And when the day is long, there is nothing better than just knowing that somebody’s got your back.