When Things Are Not OK, Friends Offer Help. Here’s How To Do It

When a true crisis strikes, there’s often nothing really telling that you can do – other than be there and be kind.

A big, sad thing has happened in my family, the kind of shocking twist one never sees coming, where the only thing to do is retreat into metaphor for comfort. We stepped into a lift and we started falling. A rip opened in the fabric of the kitchen and suddenly we were in a hushed side-world of hospitals and rage, trying desperately to find our way home. We woke one day with a new language, one that hurt our throats to speak.

If you’re lucky and loved, when something like this happens, and you eventually tell your friends, they ask if there’s anything they can do.

Is there anything they can do? It’s a really kind question. I know it is, I know it’s always meant, and real, and I know these friends would love there to be a simple answer but, increasingly, my reaction to these kindnesses is an internal kind of violence.

“Is there anything I can do?” You can take us back to two weeks ago, a Wednesday, and hold us there calmly in floating, bickering, biscuit-eating ignorance. You can go into your shed with a welding iron and invent two dystopic mechanisms of time travel which will allow us to move backwards rather than forwards, and then to sit with each other as if on a beach, in the moments, minutes and hours when everything was all right and everything was the old normal rather than this one, this desolate desert of gravel and bad news.

You can find a little portal, so if we are forced to continue on this badly lit and treacherous timeline, we can at least do so without the added complication of little children and their feelings. Is there a portal (could you look this up online), is there a portal where our children can obliviously mess with Play-Doh and pens, and never have to know what’s happening behind that door, and never have to see the adults cry?

You can alter dawn. That would be good. Can you fix the nights, the hours awake from half past four, the stages of suffocating and circular thoughts, which we try to dilute in stupid ways which continue to defy evidence? Can you make morning come faster or night go slower? Can you transform sleep into water? Instead of this forest, this grim plod through the dark, please can you turn sleep into a hotel pool off season, where, on a lilo the shape of a croissant, we can emptily float?

Here’s what you can do – you can be perfect, please. That’s all I can tell you – just respond to me perfectly. Just: be flawless. In your texts, on the phone, in the faces you make. I don’t know what it looks like until I see its opposite, and I apologise in advance for the noise I will make. Sometimes I am happy to be distracted by the new problem with your sink or boss, but sometimes I feel as if I am too far away to hear it as words so it lands instead as rain or hail – you can give me a moment to translate. Rather than sympathy, bring me instead your best, richest gossip, a secret made of sex and betrayal with an accessible celebrity and ask nothing of me but a gasp as you remove its silver cloche.

I am made of crepe paper right now. I am made of gum. I can withstand only two things: gossip and perfection – liquids will destroy me, the wrong word will stick to my wrists and my chest and anywhere weak. But ha – if you avoid me of course, if you avoid this lumpen pain I’m carrying in front of me as if a screaming baby, knowing how delicate I am and the flawlessness required, I will resent you for ever. There is no way to win, I’m afraid, this is where we are, sorry.

What you can do is stretch the internet to accommodate the depths I try every day to scroll, down through the grass of it, down through the earth, down through the roots of Instagram, hungrily looking for a diversion. While you’re in there, perhaps you could put up a series of impenetrable barriers too, so that I am not confronted with past Google searches or old photographs, or other traps newly spring-loaded to cause pain. You can trick me gently – alternately load me with work and responsibilities and then, at my sigh, abruptly take it all away, usher the children over to the telly or call my boss, and lie me very still by a window to look at the wind.

Time passes oddly in a crisis. Is there anything you can do? Once, years ago in hospital, there was a clock by my bed that didn’t tick. Instead its arms would sweep forward to the correct position at two or three minute intervals, like somebody dragging themselves out of the sea. Now, a day will creep past, and a night will rush, and a weekend will slither over us wetly. It would be useful maybe, to see time at home pass like it does in those dense hospital hours. Can you get me that cursed clock?

And if not, then fine, a lasagne.

- Author: Eva Wiseman, The Guradian


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