By Eric Nakano
When our team talked about starting a community newspaper, we debated over what to include. Sports? Local events? Featured restaurants? Political commentary? All was up for discussion. But a few suggestions garnered broad support, one of which was including an intimate, neighborly advice column. The past year has been rough on everyone. San Dimas residents are locked down, stressed out, and navigating sometimes tricky relationships with loved ones.
An advice column would be a great way to share some of the challenges we’re all facing and provide good direction for our toughest problems. I volunteered to write the column because listening to friends and giving them advice has become a passion of mine. Part of this stems from the fact that I’ve been reading advice columns since my early twenties when I couldn’t afford therapy but needed a place to turn for guidance. I also absorbed the wisdom of my mother, father and grandmother who regularly counseled me during my formative years.
So, there you have it. San Dimas’ newest advice column. Since this is the inaugural issue, there are no letters to answer. Instead, I thought I’d tackle a question that has come up a lot over the past few months. Some of my friends have reached out to me and asked how they could support one of their friends who lost someone close to them. They wanted to show their support but weren’t sure how to during lockdown. In normal times, they might visit the person, prepare a casserole, or help with funeral arrangements. But these are not normal times, and many of these options are off the table.
Here’s my advice. When people lose someone close to them, many feel like they’re in a dense fog. Time feels different, and the person is likely experiencing waves of sadness, anger, and hopelessness. Often the two hardest things to manage are basic life tasks and people who are reaching out to help. And this is where you can step up.
First, call your friend or send them a message letting them know that you’re thinking of them and are there for them. Don’t expect or ask for a reply. These messages remind your friend they have a support network but shouldn’t make them feel pressure to talk if they’re not ready.
Second, offer to do something specific for your friend. Many people who want to help say some version of, “If you need anything, please let me know.” The problem is that most people who are on the receiving end of this don’t feel comfortable taking someone up on their offer. They may feel like asking for help is an imposition or don’t know if the offer is authentic. Instead, ask your friend if you can send groceries to them, or better yet, coordinate supporters to send food for the next month. This can be a lifesaver and gives your friend’s support network an opportunity to help in a meaningful way. If money is tight, offer to come by on Saturday and mow their lawn or take their kids out for a pizza and ice cream sleepover weekend. The possibilities are endless, but be specific with what you’re offering and when. Most importantly, reach out multiple times even if the person turns you down initially.
Third, be a good listener. A mistake that many people make is offering an unsolicited take on their loss or even worse, cliché advice. When people are grieving, they do not want to hear canned phrases like, “Your loved one is in heaven,” or “Your loved one is no longer suffering,” or “Everything happens for a reason,” or “Your loved one would want you to be strong.” These are mildly offensive, and your friend may feel like you’re not acknowledging their pain. Instead, offer to Zoom/FaceTime/Skype with them, and ask them how they’re doing. Spend 90% of the time letting them speak. It’s okay if you don’t know what to say. The most appropriate route is not to try to relate to their pain but acknowledge it. Telling them that you’re sorry for their loss and can’t imagine what they are going through signals to them that you’re there for them. And when you do connect, whatever you do, do not multitask.
Finally, recognize that grieving is a long process. Many people support their friend for the first month or so but step away after. The hardest days for someone experiencing a loss are the days and months ahead, especially holidays and anniversaries. Put specific times on your calendar to check in with your friend, or send your friend a care package letting them know you’re thinking of them. And don’t expect them to return to their former selves for some time–or ever for that matter. They’re healing and will reemerge in their own time. For now, the best things you can do are to be there for them and help make their journey a little less lonely.
Until next time, thanks for reading, and try to be excellent to each other.
If you need advice, please send your letters to “Be Excellent” at email@example.com. Letters are edited for clarity and are published anonymously. Eric will respond to a letter in the next issue of the newspaper.