It can be hard to know how to help a friend in need. We don’t know what to do or say and we don’t want to make things worse.
We can’t avoid every bump in the road, nor can we protect our friends and family from every pitfall in life. We CAN lean on one another during these tough times though so that we can come through them without becoming completely unraveled.
Sometimes it can be hard to know what to do for your friends when they are suffering, whether it be from health problems, relationship problems, a traumatic event, or financial distress. I am not a grief counselor, but I have benefited from the support of great friends through some very tough times. In this article I share my insights based on those experiences.
Don’t Offer Your Help
First of all, don’t offer your help; provide it. Wondermom Wannabes (WW) don’t like to admit we need help. As a WW, you know that just because you won’t ask for help doesn’t mean you don’t want or need it. So, when you have a friend in obvious need, don’t assume she will ask for your help. Instead, step in and provide your help when and where you can. A few notes about doing this:
- Respect your friend’s need for privacy and quiet time. While you shouldn’t wait to help out, you also shouldn’t bombard your friend with unannounced visits.
- Protect her pride and dignity. Your friend doesn’t want to be pitied, so don’t make her feel like she is. Help her because you are a friend and are there for her, not because you need to be acknowledged for being a good person.
- Reserve judgment. Everyone handles stress, trauma, and grieving in her own way. If your friend isn’t acting the way you would or the way you think she should, remind yourself that she is her own person. Support her in the ways she needs, or if you can’t, don’t add to her stressors by making her feel that she is doing something wrong.
- Don’t offer solutions. When our friends are suffering, we want to make them feel better. It is very tempting to try to offer advice in our efforts to help. However, because grieving and coping mechanisms vary so much from person to person, your solutions may not work for your friend. Also, by offering solutions, you may inadvertently be reinforcing her feelings of doubt, failure, or depression.
- Do point out positives. When someone is going through a tough time, they naturally have a more pessimistic view towards everything. Help your friend by pointing out the bright side of situations or focusing on things that are going well.
Tangible Ways to Help a Friend in Need
In terms of tangible assistance, here are some ways you can provide help to a friend in need:
- Take her child(ren) for a few hours. If you don’t have children, this is your chance to be “the fun aunt.” If you do have kids, this buys you a little free time too since the kids can keep each other occupied. If you look at it this way, and explain it to your friend in those terms, you will give her a much needed guilt-free break.
- Help her kids with their homework. When we are stressed, we often find it hard to concentrate on the simplest tasks. Also, the effort to shield our children from our troubles can be taxing. Thus, homework time can be an extremely stressful and emotionally draining task for a woman in crisis. If you happen to plan your visit to coincide with the children’s return home from school, you can casually offer to assist them with their homework, thereby relieving your friend of this challenge.
- Offer to chauffeur the kids to and from activities. If your children have the same activities, it is easy to persuade your friend of the logic in this. If not, try to plan your errands to coincide with these activities so that you aren’t inconvenienced too greatly, which will help ameliorate any guilt or objections your friend might have to the offer.
- If your friend has a dog, offer to walk it. The family pet can be overlooked during tumultuous family events so this is as much a service to the animal as it is to your friend. The added benefit for you is physical activity.
- Help her clean the house. If you can afford it, provide your friend with a gift certificate for a cleaning service or arrange for several friends to chip in for one. Or, tell your friend you’d like to come spend time with her and while you are there offer to help her with some of her chores (e.g. folding laundry, cleaning the kitchen).
- Do her grocery shopping. Call to see if she needs anything from the store when you are headed out to do your own shopping.
- Bring dinner. We all know how much time and effort goes into planning and preparing dinner. This is one of the easiest and kindest ways to help a friend in need because you can simply double whatever recipe you are making for your own family and save your friend the trouble. Meals that freeze and reheat well are ideal, as are disposable containers so that you free your friend from the burden of doing dishes too.
- Take her out (for coffee, a walk, lunch, shopping, spa day, girls’ night out). While I don’t think people should avoid or deny their problems, sometimes it is nice to take a break from them. Help your friend take a mental and emotional break by taking her out for a change of scenery and focus.
- Accompany her to difficult appointments. Offer to drive your friend to and from places that will be hard for her to face (e.g. chemo treatments, divorce lawyer, counseling appointment, or cemetery). Some people prefer to face these situations alone, so don’t insist on driving. For many people though, the mere presence of a friend can be a great source of strength and comfort.
Finally, call, e-mail, mail, send gifts and CONTINUE to do so. When people are suffering, it is a tremendous comfort to know that others are thinking of you. A simple note or voicemail message can do wonders.
Your own life will get in the way and demand your attention, but try to send occasional emails or pick up the phone to check on your friend. If she has gone through something especially tragic, chances are she was swarmed with attention immediately after the event. That time following the onslaught of attention can be extremely lonely, particularly because it contrasts so sharply with the initial reaction from friends and family.
Be there for your friend AFTER everyone else has moved on.
More Ways to Help a Friend in Need
Looking for even more ideas to help a friend? In my post How to Provide Support to a Friend in Need, I share more suggestions including recipes for meals you can bring and gift ideas.
Here are some cheerful gift ideas to help lift the spirits of a friend who is enduring a hard time: