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How To Help Your Friend When Life Hits Her Hard

Here's how to be Friend of the Year when your BFF REALLY needs you.

Kit de Silva, 22, and Garret Villanueva, 22

Kit: My father left us when I was in my teens. I didn't hear from him for a long time. I was told he left so he could start another family, that he lived far away.

Garret: We've been friends since college, and she's told me about her hurts, about how it all unfolded, how she always feels neglected. I can see and feel the pain and the fear of abandonment, even when she won't always say it.

K: Two years ago, on my mom's birthday, I got a call from a man looking for my mom. When he found out it was I he was talking to, he kept saying "I'm sorry, I'm sorry" again and again. I didn't know who it was. I passed the phone to my mother, who told me it was my dad. Apparently a week before that call, my dad had found out he was dying.


G: Through text, Kit told me the news and how she felt conflicted. Kit usually just clams up and keeps stuff to herself, but I knew she needed someone to talk to.

K: When I finally mustered the courage to visit him, I felt so much pity because he looked like a shell of his old self. I remember how big and strong he seemed to be when I was younger. My dad also lost his eyesight because of complications from diabetes. He kept apologizing to me and my mom, and told me, "You're the first person I want to see when I get my sight back." He never got it back; he died two months later.

G: Kit was a mess when her dad died. A million emotions were running through her. When your friend is that depressed, it's quite hard to make her snap out of it. The best I could do was to always remind her that not everyone gets the chance to say goodbye. That with the very little time she had with him, he was able to tell her what he wanted to say.

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What the experts say:

"It's good that she decided to see her father before he died," says Dr. Vanessa Kathleen Cainghug, head of St. Luke's Psychiatry Department, "because if she had not, she might have difficulty having closure regarding his eventual death, like guilt feelings and unresolved anger."

Got a friend who's dealing with something similar? Guide her through by:

1. Letting her talk about her problems and make sure you are there to listen. If she's the type who doesn't open up right away, gingerly broach the topic by asking, "Is there something bothering you? Maybe I can help." If she backs out, it means she doesn't want to share anything. Don't force her. Just wait for her to open up.

2. Reminding your friend that holding on to ill feelings will only backfire on her. Help her let go little by little by letting her know you're there for her.


3. Encouraging her to learn from her experience and apply it to her present relationships.

4. Reminding your friend that family dramas affect not only her. Help her shift her focus to other people who may also be as affected as she. Her mom, for example, may also be dealing with her own issues.

Mai*, 30, and Anna*, 30

Mai: I got an e-mail out of the blue. It was from a girl who said, "Tell your BF to stop cheating on you." She went on to say that my boyfriend didn't really love me and that he was planning on leaving me, and that I should just let him go. I panicked and called my boyfriend, who said that it was just a lie and the girl was making things up. I believed him. So I e-mailed back and told the girl that she should disappear off the face of the earth.


Anna: Mai is my best friend, but it always takes her a while to open up to me. She's the type to keep her problems to herself. We would text and chat online often, but she never said anything. She only opened up when we met face to face, and that was when I realized you really have to make time for friends.

M: After a few torturous months, when I wasn't sure if he was telling me the truth, I saw evidence on his phone. There were a few e-mails from different girls. I called him out on that; he admitted he flirted, said sorry, and I forgave him. When it happened again and again, I knew I was caught in a vicious cycle.

A: I try to always be there for her. Because of work, we don't get to see each other often. But knowing she's going through something major, I check on her a lot. Sometimes it makes you feel helpless, but the best thing I can do is to let her know that, whatever happens, I'm always a text or chat message anyway. In matters of the heart, you really can't impose anything on your friend, right?


What the experts say:

"Making a man admit to an affair is hard. That's why women really have to know the man before they commit," explains Dr. Cainghug. "If a man knows he can get away with cheating once, he'll probably assume he can do it again."

Know someone with the same relationship drama? Help by:

1. Making your friend understand that trying to change the boyfriend might be next to impossible. If it's a one-time affair, let's say he cheated as a reaction to a problem, then you can try to work it out. Couples' therapy also greatly helps.

2. Asking her to decide if she really wants to continue the relationship if the partner's affairs are chronic. She needs to find out if the cheating is really part of his personality in which case the guy himself can't stop it. If this is the case, you need to explain to her that the guy will not change and she has to decide if she can really live with it.


3. Expecting that she will get hurt if she decides to break up with the guy. Encourage her to look beyond that and choose a life that is less complicated and less painful.

Anne*, 30, and Laura*, 30

Anne: I had been working for this new company for only a few months. I would go to work really early, finish my tasks on time. I was never really one to join office gossip. But before the end of my probationary period, my boss called me in her office, closed the door, and delivered some bad news. She said I would not be regularized and gave me a bunch of papers with a list of tasks she said I did not accomplish. She also rambled on about the things I lacked and showed me my performance review. I could not believe what was happening. I did not even hear the other things she told me about in that meeting. It was a huge blow because I needed the job badly and gave it my best, so I don't know what I did wrong.


Laura: It was terrible, of course. No one wants to be without a job. But I told her the key to overcoming these things is to accept the situation. I explained to her that dwelling on it would only hinder her from moving forward; the sooner she accepted the situation, the sooner she can focus on progressing. If a certain path has been blocked, then she needs to find another one to tread. I think she was dwelling too much on the negativity so she failed to see this as perhaps a sign that something better is coming. I told her maybe there's a better job or company out there that will suit her better.

What the experts say:

"If your friend is in this kind of situation, help her look at it from a different perspective," says Dr. Evelyn Gapuz, a Clinical Associate Professort at UPPGH. "There are a lot of factors that might have contributed to the company's decision, and it might not have been her fault," she adds.


How to help her:

1. Help her look at the situation from a more balanced perspective. Maybe she learned something from the job even if she was only there for six months. Maybe she learned from the experience there, like getting to network with more people, or she learned something about herself throughout the whole ordeal.

2. If she knows she did her part, remind her not to blame herself for what happened. You can also ask her to talk to her boss so she can learn more about her weaknesses. This way she'll know what she needs to improve on next time.

3. If you see that she has lost her confidence, help her see her other strengths. Ask her "What are you good at?" Maybe you can even help her prepare her résumé and accompany her during job interviews to boost her morale.

4. Encourage her to pursue other interests. Help her look at other career options. Sometimes when people are hopeless, they tend to focus on their weaknesses. Maybe she has other skills she can tap.


Marie*, 24, and Marika, 24

Marie: I was having dinner at home when I got a call from our driver. He told me my mom had an accident and was at the hospital. When I got there, she was already gone. It felt so unreal. I never thought I'd lose my mom. God knows how close we were. She was so cool; our conversations were all over social media. She used to flood my wall, and I miss that. I miss that every day.

Marika: I was abroad when I found out about tita's passing. I made a long-distance phone call to Marie and cried with her over the phone. Because in situations like this, what do you say? And I was a thousand miles way. I felt so bad for not being there.

Marie: The call was enough for me. When you lose someone, comforting words are great, but nothing really takes away the pain. It helped, though, that I knew that Marika would be there for me.


Marika: As for helping her cope, we did what we could. As soon as I could, I flew home. Our other friends and I checked on her regularly. The best we could offer was to keep Marie busy. To dull the pain, you turn to talking about everyday things, like love lives and the boys we were dating.

Marie: It was nice of them to make me laugh, but there's nothing really that can distract you from the pain at night, when you're alone.

Marika: It might not have been the best way, but we tried to avoid talking about her situation. We joked with her and brought her to parties. The noise and merriment, we hoped, would help drown out her thoughts.

What the experts say:

"The fact that it was very sudden makes this more difficult to deal with," says Dr. Gapuz. The challenge for Marie's friends was in trying to help her come to grips with the reality of the sudden loss, she adds.


How to help:

1. It's important to give her time to grieve, but that doesn't mean you should leave your friend alone. People deal with grief in different ways: some by themselves, others with friends. What you can do is ask your friend what she prefers. If she says she'd rather have company, you and her other friends can take turns staying with her. If she prefers to be alone, give her time to grieve but always check on her. Watch out for a prolonged grieving process, because it may turn into clinical depression.

2. Observe her and watch for signs of clinical depression, like sleeping problems, having suicidal thoughts, unrealistic guilt. If she exhibits signs of depression, ask her to seek professional help.

3. Provide logistical support. She might have relied on her mom to do things for her, and then all of a sudden she's gone. Help her adjust to this by doing small things for her while she's grieving, like prepping breakfast, paying her bills, and other stuff her mom used to do for her.


4. Understand that while she's grieving, she also has responsibilities to fulfill. She also needs to take care of herself. So be there for her during this time.

*Last names withheld upon the request of interviewees.

This story originally appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine, August 2014. 

* Minor edits have been made by editors

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