I always considered myself to be a good friend. I was, I thought, a good listener, compassionate, kind and selfless. I believed that I put others before me. I didn’t have many friends, but those that I did have stuck around. But one day in high school, something happened to make me question whether I actually was the sort of person that I’d always imagined myself to be.
I got to school, and found one of my best friends in a real state of shock. She was crying, pale, shaky and quiet. I asked what was wrong and she told me that one of her friends had died the day before. She needed a hug and a shoulder to cry on, I could see that. But here is where my eye opener came. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be the person that she needed to comfort her at that time. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I think, subconsciously, as I come from a family who don’t express their emotions, I felt people would have seen a physical gesture as a weakness in me.
Anyway, at that point, my fear of giving a hug was stronger than my will to comfort my friend. So I sat on the stairs, and she sat on the stairs, the gap between us wide, waiting for our teacher to arrive, each one of us as miserable as the other for different reasons. The coldness of that step felt as cold as I imagined my heart to be, watching my friend in her absolute misery and being unable to comfort her.
Was this my first experience of death? No. I had had grandparents who had died. But it was the first time I had fallen into the role of being the person who had to be supportive to such a degree. And I realized that I had a weakness – the lack of emotion shown in my family had emotionally stunted me to such a degree that I could not give physical comfort when it was needed! As time passed and I thought this through and through, I think it entered my subconscious that to be able to give a hug to a person who needs it is a far greater strength than being emotionally aloof is, and I’ve been able to comfort friends and family since.