When my unborn child's heart stopped beating I remember a scream echoing through the clinic. Vaguely I was aware that it was my scream, but all I knew was that I had to get home. Get to my room. Crawl into bed. 

I stayed there for ages. Maybe it was two weeks - I have no idea. Sometimes there was a gap in the silence where I raged, and had to trust my husband to keep us both safe. Mostly, it was silent. 

A few people came over. I am not even sure if I said anything that made sense, but I was deeply grateful and it was a relief to feel gratitude amongst waves of anger, bitterness and grief. Many people didn't come over. For a long time this seemed as horrifying as anything else.

But then something else happened. The space and quiet led me to a deep place of meditation, prayer and connection that I've carried with me since. New insights about my life and new dreams began to emerge. When we're not spreading ourselves too far, we have the chance to dig deeper.

Sometimes you may find yourself in the midst of the unthinkable, and feeling alone. It can feel like trying to remember which way to swim while being thrown by a massive wave. We would do anything for something to hold onto until the waves subside enough to swim again.

If this is you, my heart is full of love for you. And know that there will be something to hold on to. We can't always rely on people knowing how to be there for us, or having the emotional bandwidth for it. Since my experience I've seen many people comment that they "declutter" friends who don't show up for them. I think there is room for a different approach.

Take care of your self

When we are suffering or struggling, people will often say to us "Take care of your self". But what does that even mean? Here are the ways I offer you to provide yourself the care you need:

  • Allow yourself to retreat and nurse your wounds. Cry. Curl up in bed and sleep. Surround yourself with soft pillows and warm blankets. 
  • Feed yourself nutritious comfort foods. Try to avoid eating rubbish - because that's how it makes you feel. But don't punish yourself if you do. Be gentle and kind like you would to a precious friend. If it's too overwhelming to contemplate shopping and cooking, order a supermarket delivery of ready made casseroles and soups and the healthiest least processed things you can find. Or get a meal delivery service. If you know someone who loves cooking, ask if they'd make a large pot of soup for you. Many people would love to know something constructive they can do to support you. Stock up on gentle soothing herbal teas.
  • Express what's on your heart. If your friends aren't showing up for talking things through, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or similar services where you live, or book in to talk to a psychologist or counsellor. But one way or another, find someone to talk to. And pick up a pen - journalling is another way to express your thoughts and feelings. Don't censor yourself, just pour your soul onto the page. If you want to, burn the pages later to symbolise releasing the emotions.
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    Be comforted through touch. Instinctively we want someone we love to hug us or hold our hand when we struggle. If you are not with people you love, wrap your arms around yourself, wrap up in soft warm clothes, have a magnesium salt bath, get a massage.
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    When you can, make a list of what else you're needing and find ways to have these needs met.
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    Allow silence and aloneness to be a time to look within, practice mindfulness meditation, gentle yoga asanas, prayer and journalling. When you are ready, begin a gratitude practice.
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    Hold space for yourself. If you are feeling alone and fragile, sit and begin nurturing yourself. Place one hand over your heart, and the other over your belly. See this as a symbol for giving yourself kindness. Sit this way and allow your breathing to calm and deepen. Notice the movement over your chest and your belly as you breath. Sit giving yourself this kindness until a sense of calm is present within.

Hold your friendships lightly

It's easy to feel disillusioned if you thought your friends would turn up in the tough times and they don't. And when you reflect on some of these friendships you may see that it was unhealthy or one-way. But don't assume your friends don't care about you. Keep in mind that people show their love in different ways, and some don't know how to give you the support you need. 

  • Make a list of your friends, in writing if you can, or just in your mind. As you consider each friend, consider what is actually on offer. Rather than feeling disappointed that your best friend isn't visiting with casseroles, or your mum isn't ringing you up to ask how you feel, ask yourself if this is the kind of thing they do anyway. What do they offer in your friendship? If your best friend is great for a laugh and for watching old movies together, ask that from her. And if your mum is better at hugs than heart to hearts, accept her hug
  • Provide your closest friends with a bit of education and honesty about what you're going through. Don't make them guess. And although it feels infuriating that people don't automatically turn up, on the days when you have the capacity, tell them what would help. 
  • Avoid all-or-nothing thinking. Just because someone didn't visit, didn't mean they didn't care. Notice the ways people DO show love, even if it's not the way you really wanted. Live in the grace of letting people show love and letting yourself receive it, in many forms.
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    Find your new tribe - the people who have been through the same thing and get it. Whether it's a local support group or a Facebook group, there are people out there that will help you feel part of a community again. Allow yourself to open up as it feels safe to, and find the understanding you crave. Hold the awareness of the risk of some communities remaining stuck in this one event, and find those that feel like healthy supports.
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    Remember that even if your friends haven't been through the same event as you, they have had many of the same feelings. You may feel no one understands your experience, but be assured someone will understand anger, grief, loneliness, sadness, fatigue or apathy.

I hope you find something on this page to hold on to. Let me know in the comments below which strategy you'll be trying, or perhaps a new way you might show up for a friend. 

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