Life can be extremely cruel and unfair. Tragedy, loss, and disaster can strike at any given moment, and difficult circumstances usually come along without warning. Unfortunately, horrible things often happen to good people who are simply trying to make it from one day to the next.
People who face these situations often feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and unable to cope with life as they struggle to heal personally. Individuals do not necessarily have to face a major problem such as illness, a death in the family, a tragic accident, or even a natural disaster in order to become devastated. Divorce, separation, heartbreak, the loss of a job, or even a shattered life-long dream can be enough to bring a person to his or her knees in severe emotional pain.
Because we don't always have the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes, it can be very difficult (if not impossible) to find the right words to say to a person who is suffering through extremely hard times. For this reason, I have designed the following guidelines.
#1) Try to find out what happened
This part can be hard because the other person will probably be crying a lot. The words they are trying to say usually come out in short, confusing bursts because of the incredible amount of tears they are fighting back. (It's also due to the horrible and soul-twisting amount of grief that is tearing them apart inside.)
When the individual is finally able to gain the strength and composure to speak, you have to listen carefully to what happened.
They may have been cheated on; they may have lost their job; a close relative may have developed a fatal crotch infection; one of their ugly, stupid, obnoxious, smelly children may have flown off the merry-go-round at school; or a close friend may have been recently impaled by a flying tree branch during an intense wind-storm. It is also possible that the person is just constipated.
It's hard to say, it could be a number of different things.
#2) Offer words that are soothing and gentle
After fully determining that you will not be able to take advantage of the situation or personally benefit from the other person's loss, try to offer words that are soothing and gentle, such as:
A) “Holy Shit! That's Fucking Terrible!”
B) “Wow! That really sucks ass. I'm sorry to hear that.”
C) “I've seen people go through some really bad shit before, but never quite like this! Ouch!”
D) “So, what are you going to do now that you're completely fucked?”
E) “We've been driving around talking about your problems for a really long time. Can you throw me some gas money?”
F) “I would like to say that there is a God in Heaven who will guide, protect, and comfort you after this horrible tragedy, but I don't really believe in that sort of thing, so I guess you're on your own.”
#3) Talk about things that make you happy
Going through an extremely painful experience can leave someone physically and mentally exhausted, depressed, and confused about life in general. As the individual you are trying to comfort is weeping intensely from overwhelming grief, take a brief moment to think about how glad you are to not be that person.
After that, start talking about all the things that make you happy. Focus specifically on your perfect job, the extremely large bonus you got last month, your recent promotion, your awesome girlfriend with her gorgeous body and her constant desire to make love to you, the vacation you took in Florida last summer, the number of friends you have, a really cool PlayStation game you found online for a cheap price, and the swimming pool you plan on building in your back yard.
Also, don't forget to mention that you've gotten through most of your life without anything really bad happening to you, that you are so grateful to be able to live completely free of painful and bitter memories holding you down, and that you feel purely wonderful when you wake up every morning.
Talking about your own happiness should help alleviate the complete and total despair that hangs in the air when the other person talks. Everybody loves a delightful conversation, not a sad one.
It's always important to be positive!
#4) Tell the person to get help
Listening to someone else's problems is never an easy thing to do. If you simply can't stand it anymore, then cut them off mid-story and tell them to get help. (You probably need to finish your 14th beer and drive home without getting arrested, anyway.)
Telling someone else they need help is always a good solution, and the other person will definitely love to hear that. Listening to some therapy CDs and taking a pill should solve whatever problems they have.
If therapy CDs and pills don't work, then there is always soothing music they can find on YouTube.
#5) Describe an experience you had with a really depressed roommate in college
I once had a roommate in college who was really depressed because his girlfriend had left him for another man. In addition to that, he was also failing his classes. He truly felt that his life was over. In a moment of extreme desperation, he opened the window of our dorm room on the second floor, and he climbed out on the ledge.
I would have pleaded with him not to jump, but I was too busy studying for an upcoming exam on Medieval European Map Designs. (I also thought he was an asshole, so I kind of wanted him to jump.)
With tears rolling down both of his cheeks, he looked off to the horizon as he prepared to take that fatal leap. But in his moment of deep and profound despair, he suddenly had a feeling that things would be OK and that life was actually worth living. Just as he was preparing to climb back in, however, a bird flew right past his face and caused him to fall off the ledge anyway.
He probably would have survived the fall, but he actually landed the wrong way, and his head exploded all over the pavement.
(On second thought, maybe this isn't a good story to tell someone who is emotionally devastated. Forget that you read this section, and proceed to number 6.)
#6) Try to relieve the person's anxiety
Tragedy and anxiety often go hand in hand. After someone experiences or witnesses something horrible and traumatizing, they often live with the irrational fear that it will happen again.
For example, let's say that your Uncle Todd was outside messing around with fireworks on the 4th of July after drinking numerous cans of really disgusting, warm, foul-tasting, cheap beer.
Before you knew what had happened, one of fireworks accidentally went off in his face and blew one of his eyeballs out of his head. As he went searching around for his missing eyeball, a truck came by at full speed, hit him, and basically caused him to splatter all over the road in a horrible, messy fashion.
After witnessing this extremely devastating incident, you will be afraid of fireworks and cheap beer for quite some time.
Sooner or later, however, you have to face your anxiety. Tragic and horrible things do happen, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they will happen again. It's completely natural to develop fear after a traumatizing incident occurs, but you need to realize that the particular incident will probably never happen again.
Just relax! The next really devastating thing that happens to you will most likely be something that has never actually happened before and that you are completely unprepared for.
#7) Instruct the person on how to use proper stress-management techniques
Anxiety and fear naturally occur after a really horrible thing has happened. Unfortunately, the stress of everyday living also becomes even more profound. In addition to anxiety and fear, the person must now also deal with an increased level of stress. At this point, you should provide instruction on how to use proper stress-management techniques.
Learning how to manage stress is very essential at this point. When I get stressed out, for example, I react the same way that any mature, grown adult would react. I throw a massive fit, I repeatedly smash my face into the kitchen counter, I pull hair out of my head, and then I sit in the corner of a really dark room for hours upon hours crying, shaking, and trembling. (I do all of that after pooping in my pants, of course.)
If you can properly manage your reaction to stress, then you will see brighter days in the future!
#8) Recommend hobbies
Finding a new hobby is an excellent way to get your mind off of something tragic that just happened. I personally recommend:
A) Picking up twigs in your yard and putting them all in a little bag;
B) Standing alone in your garage all night while drinking beer as bats fly past your head;
C) Reading highly technical books about botany that you can't understand;
D) Looking at old soup can labels while crying intensely;
E) Collecting all of your boogers so that you can eventually try to fashion a rocking chair out of them someday
#9) Share your own tragic experiences
If the above guidelines don't comfort the other person for some odd reason, then try sharing some of your own personal experiences with tragedy.
Remember the time you missed a really important college exam because you had a horrific accident? You had been studying “Introduction to Pre-General Basic Math” all semester long, and after having a nice, healthy breakfast of deep-fried pancakes and ketchup fries on the morning of the exam, you got on your bicycle and began riding happily toward the math building. As you got closer to the building, however, you began to feel slightly ill.
Right before you got there, your asshole exploded, and you flew off your bicycle in front of a large group of people. Partially bleeding and completely covered in liquid shit, you had no choice but to limp back to your dorm room, clean yourself off with numerous rolls of paper towels, and cry for a really long time. Needless to say, you missed the exam, failed the class, and had to repeat it next semester.
It was pretty tragic, and you did feel very emotionally devastated after it happened.
#10) After comforting the person in distress, give yourself a pat on the back
There should be no doubt in your mind that the person you tried to comfort now feels much better about life in general. Whether they went through a horrible accident, a death in the family, a divorce, the loss of an important job, or some other crisis, they will probably go home with a feeling of inner-peace and hope for the future after talking to you.
Congratulations! You have truly helped someone in need!
Now that you feel pretty good about yourself, you should take a day off work so that you can drink lots of cheap beer and then play with some fireworks.