Right now, someone you care about needs you. Someone in your life is going through the hardest thing she’s ever had to endure, and she needs your help to come out on the other side of it. You know who that person is, and you know what she’s going through, so you don’t need me to say it for you.
But what you may need me to say is exactly what you can do to be the best friend possible to her, because helping is tricky, right? You’re so afraid of doing or saying the “wrong” thing that you sometimes end up doing nothing. Or you feel like she’s probably getting lots of help from other people so yours may not be needed, right? Wrong. There’s no such thing as too much help when you’re suffering.
I know this because I have needed more help this past year than I ever would have imagined. Last February, my 36-year-old husband and father of my two young sons was diagnosed with grade III brain cancer. Trust me when I tell you that help from loved ones is the main reason I am still able to get out of bed each morning with a smile on my face and hope in my heart. That, and my kids make me.
But figuring out what kind of help really is, well, helpful, isn’t always clear. So here are five ways you can truly be there for a friend in need, from someone who knows:
1. Don’t ask how you can help.
Because you are a kind person you will ask, “How can I help?” You will think this is the right thing to say. You will be wrong. Asking how you can help gives more work to someone who needs fewer things to think about, not more.
Instead, think of a few ways you know you can assist and just do them. Provide a meal (make sure it’s packed in containers you don’t need back, so she doesn’t need to worry about washing and returning the Pyrex before your next dinner party). Deliver a bottle of wine or fresh flowers to her doorstep. Take her kid for a playdate. Buy a gift certificate to her favorite workout class, nail salon, or bookstore. Mail her a handwritten letter expressing your love and support (simply liking a post on Facebook doesn’t count, sorry). It doesn’t matter how big or small the gesture is; what matters is that you have taken charge and alleviated some pressure from your friend’s life.
2. End every text/voicemail/email with this line.
“Please do not worry about responding.” And please mean it. If your friend is anything like me, she will agonize over phone calls, emails, and texts that she hasn’t been able to return. Ensure her that you don’t expect a response in an hour, a day, or even a week. You just want her to know that you are thinking of her and are available if and when she wants to talk. And when she does want to talk, it may be about “the thing” or it may be about anything other than “the thing.” Let her know either is okay.
3. Offer to do the research.
Whether it’s illness, job loss, death, or divorce, there is almost always research that needs to be done when going through hard times, and that can take a huge toll. It pulls you down deep and dark rabbit holes, often making it incredibly hard to stay optimistic. Offer to do the research for her. Give her the pertinent information she wants and needs, without her having to wade through the things that may be too painful or overwhelming.
4. Make her laugh.
There is no way to overstate the importance of laughter through challenging times. The heaviness creeps in and takes such a strong hold that it can sometimes feel like you are actually being suffocated, like you have just forgotten how to breathe. The only way to fight that feeling is to bring in its opposing force — levity. Unless your friend has zero sense of humor, please do not be afraid of telling a joke. Laughter is healing.
5. Don’t take “no” for an answer.
It is hard to accept help, even when you need it. We don’t ever want to burden people with our problems. We know that our loved ones have busy lives and worries of their own, so it’s challenging for some of us to accept kindness or generosity from others. It can also be embarrassing and humbling to be in a position where you need so much assistance.
But none of those things negate the fact that we still need you, even if we don’t want to admit it. So if your friend tells you she doesn’t need help, don’t give up. Don’t give her a choice in the matter. Because ultimately it isn’t just about her, right? It’s about you as well.
The most freeing thing for me to realize through this process is that the help I have received from loved ones isn’t just for my benefit. It’s for theirs as well. As my friends, they feel pain when I feel pain, so being able to help aids in their healing too.
And what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t honor that?