“Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it,” read the sign I passed on the highway. I don’t usually remember signs on the side of the road, and although that day was rainy and overcast, and I should have been paying more attention to what was going on in front of me, the sign stuck out to me and inspired me enough to want to write about it. In a way it’s a good thing, it means my mindfulness is coming into full bloom, that even though I’ve driven on that stretch of I-95 more times than I can count, I still notice when something is different. No two days are the same, and that’s what keeps me hopeful and optimistic about life.
I looked at the sign and contemplated its meaning. If I’m to take it at face value, it definitely has a, “People always show their true colors when times are tough,” kind of vibe, and that part rings true. When things go sideways, people (your friends and family) will let you know where they stand. They’ll let you know not with their words, but with their actions, exactly what kind of bond you’ve really forged. It can be frustrating and aggravating to find out that the strong friendship you thought you had was conditional. It’s easy to be someone’s friend when the sun is shining bright, but it’s another thing entirely to stick around when the dark and ominous clouds roll in.
You could get angry with these people for not showing up, but that’s not what this post is about. There will be feelings of anger and frustration, possibly resentment, but you have to let these feelings go. I’ve witnessed some of the absolute worst of humanity in these situations, but that’s also not what this post is about. This post is meant to be a quick and dirty cheat sheet about how to show up for those who need it, when the situations seem too terrifying, or too sad. It’s a guide for those who don’t show up for one reason or another to show them how to finally walk through the door.
The phone isn’t enough: There is no substitute for face-to-face contact. You know it’s true, but some people will tell themselves that a quick text or a call is sufficient. They’ll let themselves off the hook, and continue living their lives. We all need that personal touch every now and again, and to me, being in the same room as someone else is the only way to achieve that. People do move away, and crossing state or even country lines can be challenging, but if a loved one needs you, you’ll do what you have to do to be there.
Bring something: Whether it’s a meal or a board game, bring something you both can enjoy. Bring a movie you both used to love, or something new. Find a shared activity you can both participate in, and it’ll take the emphasis off of your friend or loved one’s situation. It’ll make it much easier to just be there, and the time will tick away faster than you realize. Sometimes, it’s as simple as throwing on an album, and just listening to the music.
Don’t bring up their situation: I know it’s the elephant in the room, but I’ve always been of the opinion that the person dealing with the problem/illness/condition will talk about it when and if they’re ready. They’re aware of what they’re dealing with, and they don’t need you to bring it to the forefront. Focus instead on the things y’all used to talk about, about the friends you have in common. Talk about sports, or anything that brought you together in the first place. If the person decides to bring up their situation, all you have to do is close your mouth and listen; it’s that simple. Which brings me to my next point:
Listen: People in these situations are going through a lot: mentally, physically, and emotionally. If they do want to talk about their situation, sit there and listen to what they have to say. I know it can be a lot, and it can feel like dumping, but just do the best you can. Give them someone to vent to; be their confidante. Also, let them know when it gets to be too much, too overwhelming, or if what has been said is just too heavy. Be straight with the person sitting across from you. They’ll appreciate the honesty, especially if you keep showing up in the future, rather than if you keep it to yourself, and never show up again.
Open the door: It’s really that simple. Just grab the doorknob, twist it, pull or push the door open, and cross that threshold. If you really care about someone enough, if you love them with every fiber of your being, you’ll be there with bells on. People make excuses, so get used to that. I’m not saying someone has to be there every day, but you can make the effort. Time is the most valuable commodity there is in this life. If you want to show someone you care, spend a little bit of yours on him or her; it’ll make a tremendous difference. If you’re having trouble showing up, some serious self-evaluation may be required. It might be time for that long, hard look in the mirror, and you may not like what you see staring back at you.
The person you’re visiting is still a person, regardless of their condition or disease, and I still think that’s the most important thing I’ve learned in my now 30 years on the planet. When I used to deliver equipment to ALS patients, people would go through changes over the months I’d come to visit them. Maybe they’d lost functionality and muscle mass, and were no longer able to go up the stairs, or they were confined to the armchair they’re sitting in. Maybe they have an intricate network of tubes in their nose and mouth, and their breathing is labored at best. They’re still a person at the end of the day, and they’re more scared now than they’ve ever been. If you can just show up for the person you love, walk through that door, and open your heart, soul, and mind, it’ll make a world of difference. Thanks for reading.