Three ways to show empathy to your friends when they are in the valley.
Updated: Sep 5
Life has taught me, we live through some version of the same experience until we begin to connect the dots, link the experiences; most importantly, learn the lessons.
A few months ago, mommy called me late one evening as I was getting ready for bed. She usually goes to bed late so a call from her at this hour was not strange. We chatted casually, as I lamented about being tired from my day. In her skillful and articulate mode, she asked when last I spoke to a gentleman, I enjoyed a great professional relationship with. It had been a while, curious I asked why.
One of his relatives might not be doing well, she said soberly, and I think it’s the one you are friends with, I did not want to pry she continued softly so I did not ask for any details.
I quickly placed her on speaker phone, went over to Instagram - pulled up his profile and watched his beaming face from his last post.
I just looked at him on Instagram, he’s fine, I said naively.
Hmmm, ok she said quietly.
Mommy, I said adamantly he eats well, is active and has a positive mindset, it’s not him, he’s good.
Thoughts of the conversation kept me up most of the night and I sent my BFF a voice note asking her what’s going on.
The following morning, my BFF and I spent two hours on the phone, most of it in our respective bathrooms crying. She was at work, I was getting ready to head to the office. I remember everything about that Friday morning. The disbelief, the anger, the constant sobbing. She found out like I did the day before and was not sure how to share with me. Each of us through our tears, prayed for our mutual friend, sent him endless virtual love and good energy.
I thought of him every second of that Friday and on the entire weekend too. I didn’t know what to say or how to even begin a conversation with him. How do you initiate conversation with someone who is going through the valley? I’m here for you? Everything is going to be alright? These phrases pale and seem so meaningless when faced with the magnitude of the mental, physical and spiritual turmoil one can experience in the valley.
Mommy always said growing up, even if you have nothing to say, show up, let people know you are thinking of them and empathize with them. This is community.
I reached out to him and chatted like we would on a normal day, never once addressing the white elephant, was it the right thing to do – probably not, but what do you say to your friends when they are hurting. I have made this mistake before, when my friend had a miscarriage, I didn’t know what to say so I said absolutely nothing. Spoke about everything else but what she was going through and ooh boy, was that a mistake. Life gives us the same experience over and over until we learn the lesson.
Three Ways we can show empathy when our loved ones are in the valley:
1. Reach out and Show up:
If your friend is going through the valley, stay close. Say, I am thinking of you, drop by, bring lunch or their favorite drink if they are geographically close. Let your presence be known. When people are in the thick of it, they may not want to talk about the situation, but there is healing power in knowing people are rooting for you.
2. Avoid clichés:
You know the , “It will get better soon’ or everything happens for a reason, we are all guilty of it. It’s the easiest thing to say when we don’t know what to say. Silence is OK.
About 15 years ago a distant relative lost two family members in a fatal car crash. My mom, who defines the word empathy went to visit the family daily. I will never forget, many months later the mom of the deceased sent her a card thanking her for her support. She wrote, many times, you came and sat in silence, that was all I needed.
I have never forgotten this, sometimes we just need to be present.
3. Be Vulnerable:
There are no perfect or magic words. Try phrases like, I really don’t know what to say, and I don’t know what to do, but I feel deeply for you and I am here.
My friend, who inspired this piece, we would talk about random things and never addressed the white elephant, until one day he brought it up casually.
I paused and said, I know I’ve been dancing around it, but I don’t know what to say, I am afraid to say the wrong thing. He responded in the most gracious way.
I know, not many people do, I know you care. It is difficult for me to talk about too.
The funny thing is this honest and vulnerable conversation cleared the air and allowed us to really communicate about it without the awkwardness in latter conversations.
In many situations, honesty and vulnerability makes conversations so much easier.
No one wants to see people they love go through struggles. However, one thing for sure and two things for certain, life is filled with mountain tops and valleys. We learn the most valuable lessons and acquire the best tools, friends and community in those valleys. Show empathy to your loved one who is digging deep to stay afloat, even if you do not know what to say. Try, I am thinking of you, I love you, I am rooting for you, I am here if you need to talk.
Miracles happen when we lift others up in love, light, positive vibes and hold them there.