Everyone goes through difficult times and having the support of a good friend during those struggles is priceless.  Many events can feel overwhelming, including the death of a loved one, divorce and a serious illness. You can help your friend through a hardship in the following ways:

  • Acknowledge their struggle.  Too often, people disappear during a friend’s difficult times because they are unsure of what to say. For fear of saying the wrong thing, they say nothing. This can feel hurtful to a person in crisis. Acknowledge the issue, “Losing your mother must be so painful.” “I heard about your cancer diagnosis and I want to help you through this time.”
  • Don’t offer false reassurance. You don’t know how someone’s situation will end, and though it might feel comforting to you to reassure them, it can often feel alienating to your friend. Also, don’t say, “Things happen for a reason.” This may be your personal belief and that can be an effective coping strategy for you; however, it can often feel dismissive during the crisis.
  • Follow your friend’s lead. Once you’ve brought up the topic, follow your friend’s lead about what she needs. She may want to talk about it and be relieved that you are open to listening. On the other hand, she may want to talk about “normal” things and be distracted because she feels like her crisis is all she ever thinks about. You are being a supportive friend by offering to be available for whatever she needs at that time.
  • Offer specific and practical help. We have all said, “I’m here if you need anything.” I’m certainly guilty of making this vague offer! However, it can be uncomfortable for some people to reach out and know how to take advantage of your good intentions. Instead, try being specific. If your kids are in the same activity, offer to do her share of the carpool. Organize a meal rotation to lessen the burden of daily tasks. Offer to run errands, babysit or dog walk. If you offer something specific, even if it’s not what your friend needs, then she has an opening to make her needs known. “Thanks for offering to watch the kids, but what would really help me is if you could walk the dog in the morning because I’m so wiped out from chemo.”

Everyone has different ways of coping with a crisis and good friends are open to being available to providing support in whatever ways are most helpful. If you worry your friend is becoming isolated or using an unhealthy coping mechanism (e.g. drinking heavily), offer your concern in a warm and non-judgmental way. “I care about you and I know this has been a difficult time.  Would you consider a support group or professional help? I’m here to help you find any resources you need.” Though it can be an uncomfortable conversation, acknowledging that you see your friend’s pain can be a very powerful moment in your friendship.