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How to support someone in a difficult situation

The stepladder toppled over. Bill, my husband, fell on top of it.

Seven fractured ribs, a punctured lung and a lacerated tendon in his hand.
Intense pain with the slightest movement. Shallow breathing, with a risk of pneumonia.

A morphine drip and hospitalisation until such time as the pain could be managed at home.

Those were the facts. There was an emotional side to it for Bill, of course.

And there was an emotional side of it for me, too.

For the most part, I held myself together. I reported the facts to anyone who needed to know. I visited Bill every day and absorbed his struggles, his frustrations and his mood swings.

Then there were times when I could allow my feelings to surface. It was when someone said ‘ how is it for you?’ and genuinely wants to know. When there were no attempts at reassurance. When I knew that I would get an empathic response.

When that happened, I could let myself talk, cry, laugh, or whatever I needed to do. Then I picked myself up and reverted to efficient coping mode. I had had a precious gift: the gift of pure presence. Thank you to my friend Alice, for giving me that when I most needed it.

So if you are wondering how best to support someone in a similar situation… when you tread carefully for fear of unleashing forces that you don’t know how to deal with… when you are at a loss for words…  just ask the simple question ‘how are you right now?’ – and then listen… and listen… and listen.


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