Ask April-Observational Wisdom- What to do when you can’t help?

Welcome to Ask April, a no-nonsense advice column focusing on what it is you can do to correct things that need correcting.  While we all know much in life is out of our control, and sometimes, our reaction is all we CAN control- we really do have a lot of personal power, thankfully. Our will is just as important as the wills of others around us, and while we need to be considerate, we also need to make sure others are equally considerate of us. It is my hope that when you write in to me, asking advice,  that I can help you make a good decision that somehow improves whatever situation you’ve found yourself in. As with anything I share, I recommend people don’t automatically take my word for anything, but include my advice in with the rest of the things that help them make a decision. I wish you well. Read on.

Every other week, I answer a call for advice, and every other week, I share my views on something I observed- I call this Observational Wisdom.

Dear Readers,

This next topic is one close to my heart- how to help people you CANNOT actually do anything for.

If you get to be my age, you will live through a scenario or two like this:

Your loved one is having problems, and you want to DO something to make to better, but you are powerless.

Maybe a cousin is going to lose their home to foreclosure due to missing mortgage payments, and is trying to dig their heels in and stay despite efforts to get them in an apartment before it is reflected on their credit. Then, after they get foreclosed on, they want to come and stay with you, tent-free until they get back on their feet, but you have an apartment, and your roommate says no. You can’t afford to give them money to stay someplace else. Nobody you know will let said cousin move in. Said cousin winds up moving back in with his or her parents, which said cousin tried to avoid.

There was absolutely nothing you could have done to help.

Maybe your best friend keeps going back with a guy she says beat her up, and is emotionally abusive.  When she is with him, she is miserable because she says he mistreats her, yet when she is not with him, she pines for him.

You recommend counseling. You tell her she deserves better. You encourage her when she sees other people. You give her a shoulder to cry on.  Yet every time, she goes back with the guy.

There is absolutely nothing you can do to help.

‘Okay, April’, you may say, ‘Those are examples of bad decisions that came back and bit people in the ass. I would not feel bad about that.’

Fair enough.

How about if your loved one lives a thousand miles away, is terminally ill, you can’t afford to go take care of them, or send money, and they are upset because they need to go into a nursing home.

There is nothing you can do for them to fix this.

What do you do when you can’t fix what you see needs fixing?

  • Offer emotional support. Validate your loved one’s feelings and just listen when they want to talk. Sometimes, this is the most important thing you can do.
  • Pray if you are a praying person. Send energy, and light candles for your loved one if this is your practice. Tell them you are doing so.
  • Look online and see what services are available for your loved one’s issue. Just because you can’t help does not necessarily mean nobody else can.
  • Talk to professionals in the field if you can to see what their insight is. They may have a solution nobody thought of.
  • Get out of the way if needs be. In some instances, the last thing that is needed is too many people cluttering up the personal space of somebody suffering. Give whatever space is needed, but let your loved one know you are just a phone call away.
  • Check in as is deemed necessary, though. Giving space needs balanced with knowing how much attention your loved one actually needs.
  • Be honest. This is sometimes, the most difficult thing to do. Don’t tell pretty lies to give false hope, or pretend certain things are not happening when they actually are.
  • Going along with this, the blame game is never a good thing. However, there comes a time when you have to be honest with your loved one about their own role in their suffering. Sometimes, a difficult time is NOT our fault. However, sometimes, it is. They might be upset at first, but in the end, they will thank you for helping point out the root of the problem.
  • Going along with this, know when to shut up, though. Sometimes, your “helpful advice” is bullshit, and you don’t know what you are talking about. Keep it to yourself if needs be.
  • After you have done all you can to communicate love, support, and advice, be adult enough to respect your loved one enough to allow them to make their own decisions. This can be very difficult as well, but it is crucial.


Maybe right now, you are the one watching helplessly as your loved one’s life needs put back together, but there will come a day when you are the one picking up the pieces of your own life. Treat your loved ones the way you would want to be treated, and they will know you are always there for them, even when you are powerless to fix what is happening to them.


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