Friendship: A chance meeting that develops into fun, memories and a million WhatsApp messages. Your only agenda for being there is because you want to be, it's a bond built on pure appreciation of a particular person. Maybe that's why a friends pain can sometimes feel like a personal attack.
When a friend is going through tough times it's hard to know what to do that will actually help.
Hopefully I can give you an idea of where to start.
My best friend's husband recently walked out on her and their son. Casting aside a relationship of 11 years and a child of pre-school age with little more than a look back over his shoulder and a few texts telling friends and family to 'look after her'. He left behind a heartbroken woman and a child with no comprehension of why daddy would leave and make mummy so sad.
Breaking up IS hard to do. It's even more traumatic if it's unexpected, unrequited and dealt to you in a way you wouldn't wish upon your worst enemy. In the space of less than a minute, my friend's life (as she knew it) was over. The person she shared most of her hours with, loved, cared for and most importantly parented a child with was suddenly just someone she used to know. She was inadvertently alone.
(Why he left is irrelevant to the point of this piece but let's just say my friend was not at fault, a court of a million men would rule her the victim).
What's followed that day is weeks of unravelling lies, constant questioning, revelations of deceit and extreme shock to the point of physical illness. To my friend's extreme credit she's dealt with it with more pride and dignity than I ever could. She will say herself, the only reason for this is because she is now the sole parent - all her strength is needed to keep her child in a stable environment and try to answer the heartbreaking questions like 'why daddy is lost' and 'why are mummy and daddy not friends anymore'. She doesn't get a break or choice as to what days or hours she can commit to - that child is her priority regardless of any of her own personal issues or feelings and beyond all the tantrums and testing behaviour she does the right thing.
It's fair to say she's having a pretty crap start to the year, but she is getting there and these are the things she feels helped her most in those first few traumatic weeks:
1. Be there. To talk, sleep, drink, or eat. Help them to function and care for themselves - this will be the last thing on their mind.
2. Make plans. Take each day at a time, but start to make future plans for a day out, night out, anything to look forward to.
3. Childcare. Parenting is tough at the best of times, but doing every bedtime, bath time and meal time alone is horrendous. Any offers of help to do some of the routine will be well accepted.
4. Make new memories. Everywhere they turn will hold a memory or link to their previous life. If you can, try and go to new places or take a break somewhere they are free of constant reminders.
5. Know when to stop. Everyone will have an opinion and want to air it - especially if there has been wrong doing on either side. Just try and stay aware, there will be days it's all they want to talk about and others when they just need a break from it.
From my own battle with depression I have been introduced to the concept that serious change will provoke a 'chain reaction' of emotion:
4. Letting go
It's not uncommon to re-visit these emotions and 'go back a stage' along the way. I have found it helpful as a way of referencing where I am.
Most importantly reassure them it's OK to feel moments of happiness and enjoy things again. That they will never be alone, and they're strong enough to get through this.