How to Support a Friend in Crisis
When going through a crisis like the critical illness of a child, it’s vital to have a community surround you for support as you walk the journey before you. It’s hard to describe how humbling it is to have friends and family actually show up to a sad place like an ICU floor just to hug you and be with you in your time of need. Having been on the receiving end of this care for several months in the past, I learned a lot about humans and how we handle crises, whether our own or that of a friend.
I could tell you stories that would make you gasp in horror. Stories of people saying the strangest things to me in our very sensitive moments. I remember being quite numb for much of our time in the ICU, so it honestly didn’t bother me much at the time. I had a very sick child and nothing anyone said or didn’t day was going to help or hurt that. But I do remember a few instances when people said things or acted in a way that just not helpful.
I was blessed to be able to visit a friend in crisis this week. I wanted very much to come be with her as her son began treatment for his new diagnosis of leukemia. I just felt like I needed to go and I was given the opportunity. My friend and I talked about how already, three days into this long battle with her son’s cancer, she’d had some of the same conversations with people who meant very well, but were frankly making her feel worse in her very sensitive time.
After spending time on both sides of the ICU experience I was able to talk with my friend while she was living it. I realized that when visiting a person who is in crisis mode, specifically someone whose child is critically ill, one would benefit from asking themselves the following question:
Am I doing/saying this for myself, or them?
And then be brutally honest with yourself.
I think people say things to grieving friends that are really just for themselves. This happens in our case too, when our children are fighting battles from a hospital bed. It’s a completely honest-to-goodness mistake, made by a person who means well and just wants to do/say something. I found myself asking this question while visiting my friend this week. No one is exempt from this common lack of self-awareness shown in these sensitive times.
One tool I’ve found helpful in this issue is the Ring Theory. The idea is there are concentric circles building out like a bullseye. The center ring is the person/persons actually going through the tragedy and the next circle holds their closest family members and friends. The next circle might hold concerned friends and people they see regularly. The next circle moving outward holds people in their larger community who know about the tragedy but aren’t close with those going through it.
The idea is this: no matter which ring you’re in, remember that it’s your place to comfort those in the rings inward from you. If you have big feelings of sadness and grief that you need to get out with a good crying/ venting session, it’s much more appropriate for you to do so with a person in a ring outward from you or someone in the same ring as you. Support IN, dump OUT. It’s important for you to process those emotions however you need to, but keep the ring theory in mind before you vent to someone closer to the crisis than yourself.
I think the spirit of this theory is so, so important. I can recall times when a someone visited and it was just too much for them, emotionally, to see Rosie so sick in a hospital bed. They would come to the ICU, bring me a gift, see Rosie and talk to me for a few minutes before I’d see tears welling up in their eyes. In those moments I wasn’t angry at them, but it certainly doesn’t feel good to have your reality be so hard for a person to even look at. I desperately wanted visitors because that is who I am (I get energy from others) however these experiences made me uncomfortable and the ring theory explains why. MY comforting THEM felt very strange, and OF COURSE it did.
I offer all of this advice with one caveat: I’d rather have a visitor who’s less self aware and gets emotional in front of me than have no visitors at all. This is just my own personal opinion. I’m always grateful when people just plain show up in times of need. However I think if we can all take this theory and keep it in mind for the next time we are visiting a friend in the hospital, comforting a friend who is grieving their spouse, or having an overwhelming crisis in their life, we will serve them better. This all comes back to asking ourselves one question: Are we there for them or are we there for ourselves?