Sunday, May 27, 2012

10 Commandments for Helping a Friend Going through a Hard Time

This is written from the perspective of someone who has a critically ill child, but I believe that most of what is written could be easily adapted to a person going through any kind of trial. 

1-Thou shalt look ahead and mark your calendars for ways to keep supporting them in their trial.  The later months in facing a trial can feel a lot lonelier than at the beginning.  Pick a date (ex. the 25th of every month) and make that your date to send a card, visit, bring a gift, etc. 

2-Thou shalt listen.  They may want to relive moments, talk incessantly about their trial, reminisce about better times, or just chat about the weather.  I used the blog as a way to get a lot of this stuff off my chest, but even still there were a few friends that got their ears talked off by my ramblings. 

3-Thou shalt be sincere.  Be careful not to shower them with blanket reassurances and tell them that you know everything is going to be okay. While it may seem like a nice thing to say,  those kind of hollow reassurances are empty.   They may very well have faith that everything will eventually be okay, but in the meantime no one really knows what "okay" means and a lot of crappy not-okay things may happen between now and the eventual okay.   Additionally, please don't say you understand what they're going through if you don't. 

4-Thou shalt be patient and not expect a timely response (or a response at all) to emails, phone calls, or cards, especially right at first.  Be patient and allow them time to adjust to their new situation. 

5-Thou shalt not be judgmental.  Everyone deals with stressful situations in their own way and the last thing someone needs who's going through a difficult trial, is someone telling them they're going about it incorrectly.   Some may be weepy and fearful, others may want to talk about it endlessly, others may be numb, and still others may be angry.    People deal differently and it's not anyone else's place to judge how they're dealing.  Of course, if you feel that there is true cause for concern in their behavior, then by all means take the necessary steps to help them.  But for most situations, accept that that's the way they're dealing and find ways to support them.    Additionally, telling someone that they're being heroic or super strong, while well-meaning can also be discouraging.  When someone is faced with a difficult situation, however well it may seem like they're dealing, they definitely still have their moments of weakness and are not setting out to be a hero.

6-Thou shalt not say "let me know what I can do to help" and expect them to call you.  Offer them specific and practical ways you can help them and tell them when you're available to do it.  Some practical ideas would be bringing them a meal (fresh or frozen for future use), a gift card to a favorite restaurant, mowing their lawn, babysitting their kids, offering rides, picking up items for them at the store, cleaning their house (or chipping in for a housecleaner), dropping off non-hospital food, etc.    Simple comfort items are also email with a favorite quote, a plate of goodies or homemade bread, a favorite music cd,  a gift certificate for a massage, etc

7-Thou shalt not forget other family members who may need a little extra TLC during the trial as well.  You can invite kids over for playdates or outings and bring siblings small gifts to let them know that they are not forgotten.  You can invite the adults out for lunch dates, or for their favorite activities (golf, shopping, fishing, taking a walk), or just lend a listening ear. 

8-Thou shalt remember that each person's trial is uniquely theirs.   Be cautious quoting them stats (good or bad), or telling them stories about people who didn't make it, or even people that did make it.   You'd be shocked at how often we hear someone casually throw out, "Oh my mom died of leukemia," as a conversation starter.  We are fully aware that people die from what they have and we don't need to hear your horror stories (unless we ask you specifically).  Conversely, telling us rosy stories of other people's easy, side-effect-free triumphs over leukemia (almost always talking about the more common, less aggressive type of childhood leukemia than Spencer has) is also discouraging.   Each person's disease or trial is uniquely theirs and stats for that individual are 100% vs 0%.  Treatment works or it doesn't.  (note:  it's okay to pass along the contact info for someone who's been through a similar trial just in case they ever want to talk, but don't force the connection.  I did eventually want to connect with other parents of kids with AML, but it was something I sought out on my own when I was ready). 

9-Thou shalt not let the idea of perfection get in the way of reaching out.  Sure, in an ideal world you'd prefer  to find the perfectly beautiful card or to bake a fancy cake or to compile a cute gift basket, but life is life and  it's far better to not let the moment slip by.   It can be as simple as sending a quick email saying that you're thinking of them,  or chatting with them on the phone, or dropping by for a quick visit and a hug, or just commenting on their blog.  :)

and last but not least....

10-Thou shalt be positive and encouraging.  We never grow weary of people telling us that you're praying for us.   Or that we've been on their minds.  Or that they think Spencer is awesome.   Or that they like my haircut.   We thrive on just knowing that you care. 


"Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." 
  Matthew 25:40