How to help your boyfriend or girlfriend through terrible times

Snowball18 asks: My boyfriend just lost his sister 2 months back, and his grandfather is in a serious condition. Right now he just found out he failed his last semester exams, and today, his birthday, he gets to know his parents are probably getting divorced because his mother is still in shock over her daughter’s death and is not behaving normally. He even had suicidal thoughts a day back. I want to support him as much as I can but my parents don’t want me to see him, thinking I am still small (I am 18) and we are in a long distance. I can’t figure out how to help him but I just want him to know I am there for him.

Hi Snowball18 –

Wow that’s just awful!  The poor guy – this is TOO MUCH!

This is as tough as his life will probably ever get – all these hurts and losses and disasters at once.  And so yes, I think you’re right that he needs your help.

But I agree with your parents about something in this, something very important.  They say that you’re “small.”  And they’re right.

I don’t mean that you’re too young, or that you’re not tall enough, to help him out.  What I mean is that NO ONE can give him what he needs.  No one is “big” enough.

What he needs is for his sister to come back to life.  And his grandfather to heal to full health.  And for his grades to suddenly be much better.  And for his mother to feel better (though she probably would if her daughter suddenly came back) and for that to make their marriage better.  And all this would hopefully be enough to take away those awful thoughts of him killing himself.

But you can’t do any of those.  And neither can I.  No human or dog can.  If he has a faith or religion, this is a time he could really lean on that – not necessarily to pray for a total miracle (like his sister resurrecting), but just for things to be okay (like believing his sister’s at peace in a good place).  But even that involves believing in something bigger than us.

But you, small as you are, can do something.  And something very BIG.  Maybe the biggest thing any human can ever do.

Which is

just what you’ve already said.

You can let him know that you’re there for him.  You can let him know that you’re there up to the limits of your abilities.  That you’re there in every way you possibly can be, given your parents’ rules and the distance between you. 

That you’re there for him to talk to.  For him to cry to.  For him to rant at about how insanely unfair this all is.  For him to be silly and stupid and make mistakes with.  For him to dare to love.

You see, I know how important this is, because I’m smaller than you!  When a person I love, or even someone I’ve just met, is feeling really bad, I can’t bring back their loved ones, or get them their job back, or find the money they need.  I can’t even talk to them. 

What can I do, then?  I lay my head in their lap and whine.  Or I bring them one of my toys.  Or I just jump up and lick their face.

And it works every time.

The power of love, of being seen and felt, even (or especially) by a “dumb” animal, is really profound.  It makes people feel like they really matter, and their feelings matter.  And their hurt matters.

And you are so much BIGGER than I am, Snowball18!  You can talk.  You can express understanding so much more than I can.  You can tell him goofy silly things about people you know, and share memories about how wonderful his sister was, and send his grandfather a funny get-well card.  And maybe you can go to a family event with him sometime, and hold his hand through all the tensions his parents are experiencing.  But even if you can’t, you can tell him you wish you could.  And that might mean the world to him.

Snowball18, your boyfriend might never again feel as alone as he does right now, or as lost.  Your kindness, your understanding, your friendship, and your love, are the greatest gifts anyone could give him.  And maybe especially your attention, as his parents are so wrecked by the loss of their daughter.

You’re too small to fix what’s happened.  But you’re gigantic enough to save him. 

Just be your loving self, and let him know how much you wish you could do more.  Because that wish holds pure magic in it.

With great admiration,


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