“Let me know if I can help.”
It’s a well-meant, reassuring phrase when someone you care about is going through a difficult time. But despite our best intentions, many of us don’t really know what to say or do when our friend loses a loved one or our colleague faces a life-altering illness.
There’s a fine line between giving someone space to grieve or respecting their need to deal with the tragic situation in their own way and reaching out for support. Although it’s kind not to want to burden your friend when they’re going through such a difficult time, a lot of people find it hard to ask for help when they need it.
That’s why it helps to make a specific offer when someone could use your assistance. Instead of saying “let me know if you need anything“, try to come up with something concrete that you could do to help them: watch their kids, cook a comforting meal or call them once a week to see how they’re doing. Just make sure you only offer help you’re genuinely able to give – letting your friend down when they’re counting on you is inconsiderate.
So what can you do or say to help out? Have a look at these 33 ways to best support your friend or loved ones in need.
33 Tangible Ideas for Offering Support
in Difficult Times
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1. Practical Help
When someone in your life is hurting, there are concrete things you can do to help – and it’s easier than you might think:
- Run errands or bring a nourishing meal (but be mindful about specific diets).
- Drive your friend to and from the hospital for treatments and check-ups.
- Put together a comforting care package for your sick friend.
- If a loved one feels overwhelmed, make a to-do list together, set priorities and help him or her tackle the first task.
- Help out with little chores around the house.
- Rally support: ask around which other family members and friends wouldn’t mind offering practical help or keep your ill friend company on a regular basis.
- Offer to pick the kids from school, organize play dates or babysit when they have appointments .
- Help your friend deal with insurance companies, medical staff or legal appointments.
- Donate to a suitable charity in your friend’s honour or set up a crowdfunding project for a specific goal.
- Walk the dog or look after pets.
- Considering taking up the role of health advocate to coordinate the care of your sick friend. You can help by taking notes during doctor’s visits, asking relevant questions and addressing concerns; scheduling appointments or informing about second-opinions.
2. Emotional Support
When your friend has been diagnosed with a terminal illness or your colleague’s husband has been in an accident, they’re probably overwhelmed with a wide range of emotions. But you don’t have to be a psychologist to offer your support and compassion:
- Simply listen. People often struggle to find the right words to say, but what we all need most when we’re hurting is someone who listens to our internal struggles without judgement or jumping straight to the solutions. Sometimes you just want to vent, share your deepest thoughts and feel understood and love through it all.
- Give hurting loved ones a hug or hold their hand – if you both feel comfortable doing so of course.
- Don’t give unsolicited advice, especially when someone just wants to express how they’re feeling. Offering ‘simple’ solutions to complex problems can be very hurtful and undermine your support.
- Let your friend know you’re thinking of them by sending a post card or calling them.
- Be someone they can trust. Avoid sharing intimate details from your conversations with other friends or family members unless you have permission
- Cheer your friend up. Again, be careful about putting a positive spin on upsetting events by saying “You can do this” or “It will all be ok” when things are clearly not ok. But we can all use happy distractions during sad times, so don’t hesitate to crack jokes, tell funny stories or watch comedies together.
- Keep personal stories to yourself. There’s nothing more annoying than hearing “Oh I know how that feels. Remember that time when I broke my arm?” when you fear losing your mobility due to a progressive illness like MS.
- Buy a journal so they can safely express themselves emotional or give a book that chronicles similar struggles.
- Offer a shoulder to cry on.
- Keep your own emotions under control. It’s perfectly ok to let your friend know you’re sad too, but don’t let your feelings overshadow theirs and make them feel worried or guilty about burdening you.
- Remember what not to say to a sick friend.
Never underestimate the power of your presence.
- Reach out, in any way to you can. We all long to be seen, understood and loved.
- Schedule a coffee date or do something fun together.
- Send a hand-written post card. Emily McDowell’s Empathy Cards are perfect when you can’t find the words to express how you feel.
- Keep your friend company during treatment or painful moments such as cutting their hair or fitting wigs.
- Pick up the phone – you can tell a lot more from hearing each other’s voices than from a text message. You could call your friend on the same day every week to stay in touch.
- Provide happy distractions. Bring a fun movie to watch, surprise your friend with a temporary magazine subscription, play board games together or gift an uplifting book.
- Remember special days – the anniversary of losing a loved one, a remission date or the first holidays alone. If you’re close, you could maybe start a new tradition or ritual together to commemorate that date.
- When you go around for a visit, don’t overstay your welcome. Grieving and serious illness can take up all of one’s energy.
- Send flowers.
- Try to find ways so your sick friend can join in on the fun in a modified way.
- Check in over time. As the weeks and months go by, people return to business as usual, but for the person who’s sick or grieving, the emotional wounds can still be fresh. So don’t expect your friend to just ‘move on’, but stay in touch.
For more well-researched, actionable advice (with humour!) on what to do when life gets scary, awful and unfair to people you care about, check out Emily McDowell’s brand-new book “There Is No Good Card For This”.
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