A few years ago, a friend of mine who was a recovering alcoholic got terribly drunk one night, screamed at her husband, went outside, slammed the door to her car, and put a pistol in her mouth. It was horrible. It was horrible to watch her slip back into alcoholism after nearly a decade of sobriety. It was horrible to hold her husband and have him tell me the last thing she ever said to him was, ‘you never loved me.’ It was horrible to watch the police investigate in what they quickly determined was a suicide complete with note, finger prints, and stigma. It was horrible to find out that her blood alcohol level was many, many times the legal limit, and enough that any normal person would have been dead just from alcohol poisoning. The whole experience was horrible.
In the mist of all the confusion and the askings of ‘why?’, one of my bosses who found out, and had the clarity of mind to respond by inquiring, “Tell me about your friend.” It was a beautiful moment in my life. There was no judgment; only an opportunity to recall the good things about my friend.
Since my dad got sick, I’ve gotten enough advice on how to ‘do this better’ to float the Titanic back to the surface. It is a very rare friend who will put aside wanting to hear their own opinions and voice rattle on and on, and just say you’re doing good, or thinking of you. As brutally honest as it may seem, the best intentions often come off as patronizing, and I’m know I’m not the first care taker to feel that way. If you haven’t been through it, be careful to judge so harshly.
I’ve got news folks. This is hard, sometimes dirty, heartbreaking, physically straining work, not some cutesy fairy tale that many of the patronizers have in their minds. So, did I remember to put protein in his pudding? Yes. Do I turn him often enough? Yes. Do I sing to him? Yes. Do I tell him I love him at every opportunity? Yes. Did I go through a master’s program in counseling and thoroughly understand my feelings are normal in a textbook? Yes. (And by the way, I still have the right to feel that way; it doesn’t make me weaker to feel the same things as the rest of the human population.) Am I aware of which medicines can and cannot go with each other, what time to give them, and how to use injections if necessary? Yes. So please, next time you have a friend going through a hard life event, save the judgment. Find out if you friend needs support, a listening ear or advice because these are very different ways to support a friend in need.