We’ve all been there. We’ve heard about a friend or a family member who’s going through something tough. And like me, many of you have probably said, “Let me know if you need anything.” It feels good to say, and likely, you genuinely mean it – if they were to ask, you’d definitely help.
It wasn’t until recently – when I was on the opposite side of the equation and was the friend going through that tough time – that I realized how empty, “Let me know if you need anything” is. First, when things are tough, like “IkindawishIwasdead” tough, you need EVERYTHING. There isn’t a single thing you don’t need and wouldn’t gratefully accept. Second, it’s so hard to ask for help. You don’t want to impose, you know how busy your friends are and don’t want to be a burden, you are proud, you’ve always done it yourself before, you’re embarrassed for people to see you/the house/your kids this way. The excuses are endless, but for many of us, allowing people to help is a hurdle in and of itself.
My advice for helping a friend when they need it the most is simple: Don’t ask, DO.
For example, instead of saying, “Let me know if you need anything” say, “I’ll be bringing dinner over this week. Does anyone in the family have any allergies?” Instead of saying “Call me if I can help” say, “When does your son have karate? I’ll plan on taking him for you.” If you truly want to help a friend in need, just do it. They will be grateful. Remember, they are in the position of needing anything and every kind of help you can give. And they might struggle with asking for help, so don’t put them in the position of having to ask.
Here are some things you can do that will be welcome and appreciated:
1. Feed them.
No matter the situation (surgery, death, emergency, even bringing home a newborn) the simple task of preparing food becomes an unbelievable chore. Dinners that can be popped in the oven – especially in containers that don’t need to be washed and returned – are lifesavers. One friend brought us a hearty stew in a Ziploc bag (all we had to do was heat it up) AND a duplicate for the freezer. Prefer to bake? Think breakfast. Send over a banana bread or other breakfast goodie that will help out with one of the meals of the day. Having a hard enough time feeding yourself let alone another family? Think groceries (milk, fruits and veges, breads, lunchmeats, spreads…the essentials and quick and easy snacks that will be appreciated). Create a MealTrain account where fellow friends can sign up to bring meals on different days (so the recipient isn’t bombarded with four casseroles in one day and then nothing for two weeks). You could also provide giftcards for restaurants near their home or consider ordering for them from Food To You or Grub Hub (companies that deliver from restaurants in your area). We also had a great RMB post called Recipes for Celebrating and Grieving.
2. Help with the kids.
Funny thing about life: it just keeps on going – no matter what’s happening to you. Same applies for the littles. They need exercise, attention, cuddles, stimulation, and lots of love regardless of what’s happening to mom or dad. When you have a friend in need, if they have children, offer to help out with the kids. Come by the house and play a board game, help them with homework, take them for a walk, go to a park, or have their kids over to your house for a playdate. Offer to bring them home from school or run them to and from one of their after school activities. Pack lunches for a few days so the kiddos just have to grab and go. Even at my worst, I worried if my children were happy and doing well – that worry doesn’t go away no matter how drugged up or in pain you are. Knowing that your kids are OK and getting something that you can’t necessarily give right then is such a relief. Plus, if the kiddos are occupied, your friend can take a much-needed nap or do something that’s always more difficult with little ones around (like taking a shower, which after a surgery is a long, awkward, and exhausting process).
3. Help with housework.
It’s astounding how quickly house chores pile up when someone in the house is down for the count. Even an hour of your time doing something in your friend’s house will be appreciated. Can you help with a tub of laundry? Unload and load the dishwasher? Straighten up a child’s bedroom? Run the vacuum? When you’re stuck at home and unable to leave, it seems all you see is the mess – a mess you sometimes physically can’t do anything about. So help your friend out by taking care of some of that mess.
4. Do thoughtful things.
Feeling artistic? You could make your friend a card (or enlist the help of your artistic offspring). Flowers, plants, and care packages are thoughtful gifts. During my tough time – recovering from a severe shoulder surgery – I found I couldn’t wash my long hair, nor put it in a simple ponytail. One friend offered to not only wash it, but braided it for me which lasted several days. This small and thoughtful act was HUGE and incredibly appreciated by me! The key is to think of what your friend might be experiencing and then see how you could help. No thoughtful gesture is too small.
5. Keep in touch.
My mom – who lives in another state – texted and called me daily. Several close friends texted or emailed me often. The topic doesn’t always have to revolve around your friend’s tough time. Send a joke. Send some office gossip. Ask their opinion on something. Getting your friend to think about something besides their own tough spot is often a welcome respite and also lets them know they are in your thoughts.
The biggest thing to remember is any gift – especially the gift of yourself and your time – will be appreciated by your friend in need.
What things have you done to share your love when someone needs it the most?