A very dear friend of mine is a widow. Despite our best efforts, so far we have not found a better word for this antiquated description of a woman whose husband has passed away (we are looking though). To me, and to others the title comes with a kind of preconceived notion of an older woman, and yet my friend is only young, as was her husband when he passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving a widow and two children behind.
Having been through this experience, many others in similar tragic circumstances have reached out or been connected to her for advice, and advice for people helping others going through the death of a loved one.
The best advice that I have heard, from my friend, and from others?
Don’t ask. Just help.
Nothing to do with the scale of the help, just take into account what your friend/family member/person in need requires, and just fill the gap. Take over a few meals, so they don’t have to prepare them when they are grieving. Go over and just wash some clothes, take the kids for a few hours, and give them some space.
It is important, in conversations about mental health, to encourage people to open up. To talk about their feelings, to ask for help. It’s so important to create environments where people feel that they can open up, but sometimes feelings of being overwhelmed, sad or out of sorts is so foreign that it becomes very difficult to articulate these feelings.
I myself have been one of these people.
Several years ago, I was going through a tough time. But like many others, when anyone asked me how I was going, “I’m going ok” was my answer. “I just need to….”, “Soon everything will be alright”, “I’m just sorting it all out, but in a little while it will all be ok”.
At that time, after a long period of success, I met some very serious challenges. Financially, personally, emotionally I was going through a rough patch. Even physically! My stomach was permanently upset from the stress. I’m an entrepreneur, and have been my whole adult life. I believed that there was no time to waste on fixing the problems that I was facing, and so there was no point talking like times were tough. I was still here, I still had a roof over my head…. So I was ok. I had also spent my whole life hellbent on independence, building a life where I was free from financial, and the bulk of emotional stress…until that point.
One day during this period I got an email from my sister who was living in the UK at the time. We didn’t speak all the time, so it was a little unusual to hear from her, and I hadn’t spoken to her for some time. The email wasn’t particularly long and the gist was, word on the street is you’re having a rough patch, I hope this helps.
It was 10pm at night, and I was still in the office. The email had a $100 woolies gift card attached.
I burst into tears.
It wasn’t because it was from my sister, it wasn’t anything to do with the value of the voucher, It wasn’t even because it was a really nice act. It was because, for the second time in my life at that point, I needed it.
I just needed it.
When people need help, sometimes they don’t know what they need. When someone passes away suddenly, unprepared families seldom know what they need, it’s all foreign. When stubborn, driven people need help, they often can’t recognise it in themselves, let alone ask for help. Sometimes people see those who complain about small, insignificant problems, and they think that their problems are barely more significant, why complain, when you have a roof over your head, a job, some people who care…. Being down without realising it can be a lonely place to be, because if you don’t think your feelings or problems are worth mentioning, how do you bring it up?
In these cases, and in many others, it is better to just do something to help, without asking.
Observe, pay attention, and if someone is doing it tough, jump in and just help. Don’t wait to be asked.
“How are you doing?”
Because most likely the response will be: “I’m Ok”
Sometimes it’s true, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes ask a few more questions, sometimes just observe a little bit more. These times can be when it matters the most that someone cares. Not every cry for help comes before the help. My crying happened afterwards, before, I didn’t even know I needed it. As a result, finding my vulnerability, hitting that point as an adult, feeling those feelings and learning to cry again, helped me to go on to bigger and better things, and I cannot thank my sister enough for that. The tears of kindness might have been the most powerful tears I have cried, and this was after me going through a decade of deciding that crying wasn’t for me, and that I didn’t have time for it.
“A friend in need, is a friend indeed”
Be the friend. You don’t need to solve the problems, you don’t need to define the problems, you don’t need to do any more than you can do. But do something, help. Help simply, help with love, and be there in action, not just in thought, spirit or sympathy to those closest to you. You might just be the answer in the end.
Pay attention, look after each other, and as always, Just Be Nice.
Josh Reid Jones - Founder of The Just Be Nice Project and Odin Sports