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What should a friend do when tragedy strikes? I have a close friend that is going through a very hard time. They are experiencing a tragic loss and I’m really not sure what to do to help her. Do I give her space or should I make sure she’s not alone? Does she want a meal? Is it better to let her ask for help or do I jump in? I need your advice, please. What do I do?
Friend That Just Wants to Help
Dear Friend That Just Wants to Help,
First of all, BRAVO to you for being so concerned about your friend. Loss of any kind can be very sensitive and tricky to handle, and lots of friends tend to shy away from handling it at all, simply because they don’t know what to do. It can be awkward, tense, and not the most pleasant concept to handle sometimes. I recommend diving in anyway. Your friend will need you.
First things first, the important thing, no matter what the loss, is to simply make sure that your friend knows you are there for them. In whatever capacity they need. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a relationship or even a job, everyone processes loss differently. Everyone handles grief in a different way. There should be no judgment applied. And unfortunately, there isn’t a specific tried and true formula that will work for every situation. But just by asking your questions, you are already on the right track.
Here’s something I went through recently:
My family just went through a severe illness that very nearly resulted in the death of my father. Mercifully, he survived and is recovering more and more by the day. When we were in the trenches of the illness, for weeks, every day it seemed like things got a little worse as one system after the next went into failure. In addition, I don’t live in the same city and I had to travel back and forth a lot for several weeks. I spent a lot of time waiting for updates when I wasn’t there with him. It was awful.
This went on for over three months. During that time it felt like I was grasping at anything to help me just crawl through my day. It was hard to take a deep breath and keep hoping for the best. Let alone carry on living my life in the meantime. Luckily for me, I had a handful of family and friends that lifted me up and carried me through when things were looking very grim. Their love and support were precious to me and I would have surely been lost without it.
Here are some ideas I would suggest:
Check in early, check in often. Don’t check in once in the morning and call it good for the day and mark that off your to-do list. Really check in on your friend. Texting them is fine for the majority of the time. And your friend will appreciate the texts so that they can reply at their convenience. But also, make sure you speak to them on the phone or in person regularly, to get a gauge on how they really sound. Anyone can say they are doing ok via text when they really might not be so ok.
And Check-in Some MORE.
And keep checking in. Don’t just contact them once and then disappear. Check in every day. For a long while. Lots of friends will contact you at the onset of the issue, and then it will be weeks or months before you hear from them again.
I stayed in constant contact with my family members. We
Meanwhile, my dearest, sweetest, sparkliest friend knew I would get updates every day from the doctors around lunchtime. You can bet if she hadn’t heard from me by early afternoon, she was ringing my phone for the update. Every. Single. Day. She was a rock. She doesn’t live close by, but I knew I could call her at the drop of a hat and she would have handled whatever I needed. She’d have walked in my house, taken over and sent me on my way immediately if I had needed her. Likewise, she would have jumped in my car and gone with me if I had to travel. I never had a moment’s doubt she would be there.
Do people really want meals? Would they rather a gift card for meals?
It just depends on the situation. If you know the person is traveling a lot or at a hospital a lot, then gift cards for meals are a wonderful idea. If they had to travel out of town to gather with their family, order pizza for the whole bunch of them so there’s one less thing for them to worry about.
If your friend is local and going to be home, take a meal over to her house. What I like to do (and appreciated when this was done for me) is bring over a meal that can easily be cooked that night OR put in the freezer. Assemble it but don’t cook it. That way your friend has total control over when they cook the meal. They might have a ton of food already but would appreciate a meal later on when the buzz dies down.
What I Like To Do:
Firstly, I’ll make up one or two simple casseroles and take them over in aluminum pans, wrapped up in foil with instructions written on the container. That way they know exactly how to cook the food when it’s time, and it can be cooked that night, or frozen for a night in the future. Plus, your friend doesn’t have to return your dishes and try to remember which dishes belong to which person. Secondly, I’ll throw in a few simple grocery items that can easily be transformed into a simple few meals. I like to include bread, deli meat, cheese, muffins, crackers, and candy.
Clean Her House
As long as you know your friend fairly well, just show up and start cleaning their house. Fold some laundry, run the vacuum, do the dishes and clean the guest bathroom. They will probably protest, but they will also be super thankful too.
Similarly, Come over and watch your friend’s kids if that would be helpful. Plan ahead or just show up. Let your friend take a nap. Or a nice bubble bath. Or go to the grocery store or shopping. In short, whatever business your friend needs to take care of, keep the kids and send your friend on her way. Just give her a break for a bit.
Be Prepared with Helpful Names
Depending on what your friend is going through, be prepared with a few helpful resources on your side. For example, do they need the name of a few funeral homes? Specialist doctors? Lawyers? A counselor? Whatever the situation, do a little research. You may never end up sharing it with your friend, but it’s at the ready, should you need a name for any reason.
When someone tells you they think they might need some counseling or help, that’s the time to have that information at hand. You can just say “You know – just in case you needed it, I looked into it. I’ll email you the names I found.” And leave it at that unless they ask for further help.
If they have lost a job, it could be as simple as providing some names of career counselors or resume perfecting services. Further, perhaps you have a networking opportunity for them.
If they have experienced a death, have the names of a few bereavement counselors and estate attorneys, just in case. It can’t hurt to be prepared.
At the end of this post I’ve listed a few books that could be helpful gifts for your friends as well. That’s always a nice token and they can then read it when they are feeling up to the task.
Don’t send Flowers
As an alternative, when life has calmed down for your friend a bit, get them a tree, bush or flowering plant that can be planted in the yard (or kept in the house year-round) that will bloom and grow for years to come. And either plant it yourself or hire someone to take care of it for your friend. I like to get something beautiful that they can look at and enjoy year after year.
To Sum Up
So, Friend, to sum up, my answer to your question, the best thing you can do for your friend is to simply be there. Most importantly, just listen to what they have to say and what they are worried about. Help where you see the opportunity to help. Keep yourself informed and on top of the situation as it evolves. Check on her often. She will appreciate everything you do and will be so very grateful you are in her life.
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