At twenty, I burned with a passion to make a difference in the world. I enrolled in the “ Samaritan Of Singapore”,a volunteer movement. To assess my skills they gave me a test. A “caller” explained that she was hurt and traumatized. Sobbing, she said she felt close to suicide as her long-term boyfriend had left her. Being young and inexperienced, and very idealistic,I naively told her that having a relationship was only part of one’s life and that she should move on. I preached to her about how she could focus on her work instead to enrich her life. Naturally I failed the test miserably and was put on clerical duties instead!
That experience taught me to never enforce my own philosophies onto somebody who is suffering emotionally. At the loss of a loved one no amount of “words of comfort” will help, and telling them to “take it easy” is lame and unrealistic. Even saying “ I understand and know what you are going through” is sometimes not believable. It’s very difficult to feel or empathise with someone’s pain unless we have gone through the same trauma or loss.
Not long ago a very close girlfriend of mine lost her grown-up and only son. I’m aware that his loss is something she’ll feel forever and will never “get over”. Not knowing how to offer her comfort I can only hold her hand, hug her and cry with her. Though five years have passed she still feels a deep sense of emptiness and as she put it herself,”my heart feels physically heavy and painful,especially when I wake up and realise that I will never see him again.” Several times she has spontaneously called out his name while reading the newspaper and wanting to share the news. Once, when she cooked his favourite meal and called for him the truth hit her so hard that she sat on the kitchen floor and cried uncontrollably.
It was during one of these extreme periods of grief that she decided to send me a fax pouring out her feelings, hoping it would bring her some kind of relief. She wanted to tell me how angry she was. Questioning why God had taken her one and only child from her and explaining how she couldn’t cope with t he stress of hiding her grief, and how her tears never stopped flowing for her son. Unfortunately her fax went to the wrong number. The party on the other line not only took the trouble to respond by fax that the original correspondence had been sent to the wrong number but they also scribbled the following…
” I know you are wrong to question your religion and God. Have faith that it is all good for you, your son might not have brought you happiness as he grew up. God knows it all and this is our trial. Start your life like you are building a new home, put the past behind you and live again.”
It sounds sensible and could even be religiously correct. But my friend found the note offensive and callous, and was even more upset after reading it. Obviously, the sender was very young or very inexperienced in life to have given such an idealistic response. Her naivety reminded me of myself when I first joined the SOS.
We very often have friends who pour out their sorrows of failed relationships, frustration with their careers or their despair over critical illnesses. Though we may not know words of consolation it’s always best to let them talk and say what’s on their mind. Allow them to release freely instead of trying to find the right response. Don’t preach religion or try to philosophise. Keep in touch with the person constantly to demonstrate your support but always refrain from telling other parties of their predicament. It is up to them to inform whom they choose of their personal problems.
Unless you’ve had an intense relationship, or have built your life around another person for years, you may not understand why estranged spouses can feel so traumatised when their relationship ends. Some may think of them as being weak, but in talking with friends I’ve discovered that such break up can hurt so much that they wished that they would simply not wake up in the morning, ending their pain. While their friends mean well and were trying to help by including them in their invite list for parties and gatherings, they very often were not ready to “face the world” and prefer to be left alone and grief….. an unavoidable process until they get back on their feet again. They also felt uncomfortable being single and alone in an environment of couples.”
It took me a long time to learn how to console others in distress. It’s being conscious of how we would want to be consoled ourselves should we be placed in a similar situation. But the person in distress doesn’t want to hear of your similar experience, or how well you coped or tackled the situation. Just remind yourself that knowing that the prick of the needle hurts is different from being hurt by the prick of the needle. Keeping this in mind I’ve learnt to say as little as possible and just listen with empathy while holding my friend’s hand.