There are many times in our lives when we are on the outside watching someone hurt or be hurt and we try to understand, but we can’t truly understand and those on the inside can’t fully explain it. And what “it” is depends on what you are going through.
It can be abuse in a relationship. It can be the death of a relationship or parent. It can be hardship in one form or another like the loss of your job. And even if you chose to end a relationship, there is still a mourning phase.
As friends or lovers or family, we stand on the outside, usually being kept at arm’s length so that the important person in our life can work through whatever it is they are going through. We say we understand and we do to a point. We understand the one we love is hurting. We understand that they feel helpless to their situation and that we feel helpless in wanting to do what is best for them. We hope we are being the best possible friend we can be but we don’t truly understand because their pain is their own and their process and journey is their own. They cannot fully explain what they are feeling because for most people, to really get knitty gritty and explains means letting go and feeling all they are feeling at that moment and would cause them to break apart. They would be exposed and raw and vulnerable and that, to anyone, is scary. It also means losing all composure and to do that, you need to be with someone you trust entirely or you need to be completely alone.
The pain of loss in any form, even if you choose it, like during divorce, is devastating. I found out quickly who my friends were during my divorce. No one has the right to put a timeline on your grief or guilt. They don’t have a right to tell you that you are better off and should be over it by now. It doesn’t matter if it is the death of a relationship or loss of someone.
I think as a friend or even with your life partner, it is important to suggest from the outside what is healthy and what is not in a gentle, loving way. I think the biggest thing we can do for them is to help them recognize the difference between grief and depression. Grief can bring up many different emotions that are completely unexpected and it is important to acknowledge that pain and work through it but you can’t force someone to do that. However, when they don’t let go and allow those emotions to be worked through then depression can settle in and the two combined can become a jumbled mess. That leaves those of us on the outside trying to help the one we love and feeling helpless ourselves. We need to remind them to seek out face to face support from those who love them and to take care of themselves physically as well so that the emotional health can fall into place. Loss of an unhealthy relationship is hard even though it was unhealthy. Loss of a loved one is hard, even if they are unbelievably ill and loss of a job, even if you weren’t happy leaves you feeling anxious and sad.
Keep in mind, pain does not go away if you ignore it. You do not have to be strong in the face of your loss nor is there a set timetable that anyone should be keeping for you for grieving. But in that time table it is also important to remember that moving on, in divorce or death or job loss doesn’t diminish or make your loss any less important, especially if it is a person, it simply means you are living the life they would want you to. And as we move forward, the memories will become more and more integral in defining the people we are and have yet to become.
Grief is a rollercoaster ride. As the outside person looking in, it is important to remember not to take things personally. There will be silence, knit picking, anxiety, and a host of other things that present themselves. Steady yourself, and know what to look for in comparing grief and depression. Grief cannot be treated it needs to be worked through but depression is treatable:
Try to gently suggest that they contact a grief counselor or professional therapist if your friend or loved one:
- Feels like life isn’t worth living
- Wish they had died with their loved one
- Blame themselves for the loss or for failing to prevent it
- Feel numb and disconnected from others for more than a few weeks
- Are having difficulty trusting others since their loss
- Are unable to perform their normal daily activities
Just keep open and honest communication flowing while keeping in mind that the conversation will be on their terms right now. Keep yourself healthy by talking with others to keep your own emotions level. And for those of us with trauma in our lives, it is so vitally important to not take actions or non actions personally. I completely get the red flags, and being worried you are in another one of those relationships. I understand the sickness in the pit of your stomach in the wake of their loss but it isn’t about you even if they pull away, it is not about you. It is about their process.
The bottom line in all of this is: when you are outside looking in, they just need to know they can call someone they love and trust. Some days it will just be them trying to be normal. If you talk every day, it may be as if nothing is going on because they need that normalcy and other times, there may be sadness, sorrow, grief. Let them set the pace. Let them process in their own way and if they pull away from you, try not to take it personally. Very hard I know, especially for those of us who have been in abusive relationships but they are not that person. Keep the lines open without being intrusive. One thing I always do is to let the person know. “I love you and I’m going to trust you to tell me what you need when you need it. I am here.” That way if I am not texting as much, they know why. I am giving them space and they also know they can process and call me any time day or night when they need to talk. In the meantime, I make sure that I am taking care of myself because being on the outside is just as emotional as being on the inside. It’s just a different kind of stress. We need to take care of ourselves because the relationship will be very one-sided for a while.
It is so very hard watching someone you love struggle with loss but keeping in mind that their process for coping is unique to them and may not resemble yours, helps keep things in perspective. You have to be comfortable with silence. Let them cry when they need too. Hold them or accept that they may not want you to hold them. At one time or another we all have to go through this for the first time in a relationship whether it is love or friendship. Let them be them and love them unconditionally through the process. My biggest piece of advice: Have no expectations. Doesn’t mean they can be disrespectful or rude but have no expectations of how they will be or act or communicate for a while. I always say, “You do you and know that you are unconditionally loved by me.”