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Five Ways to Help a Friend In Crisis

You know the feeling: you find out that a friend is getting a divorce, that their parent is in palliative care, that they are facing a cancer diagnosis or that they have suffered a miscarriage. Your heart is saddened, you want to offer your support but then that awkwardness takes over: you don’t want to intrude, you don’t want to embarrass them and quite frankly, you just don’t know what to say or do so you do nothing.

We’ve all grown up knowing how to celebrate each other’s success, but we seem to be ill-equipped to support each other through trauma. How do you get around the uncomfortable feelings and show that you care?

1. Hand-written note

If you don’t feel close enough to call or visit, let them know that you’re thinking of them. You could dash off a quick email or text, but nothing says, “I care” like a hand-written note. Get a blank card or note paper and spend a moment to think about what you want to say. It doesn’t need to be complicated—most times you can’t solve their issues and they certainly aren’t wanting you to. This note is to simply express that you see their pain and that you are there for them.

2. Be present

If you are close to the person, perhaps they are a family member or long-time friend, makes sure they know you are there for them. If they are up to it, drop in and let them know you are there for them. This is not a time to talk or offer solutions, even if they worked for you. This is about offering to be there, to be present in the moment and to listen if they feel like sharing.

3. Stay real

Your friend is in crisis. Don’t pretend that nothing has happened and avoid the “elephant in the room”. Let them know you care with simple words to acknowledge their situation such as: “I’m so sorry this is happening,” or “I’m here for you.”

Once the trauma is acknowledged, remember that they are still the same person you have always known and loved. Speak freely as you normally would, being real and genuine. Even if you have experienced a similar issue as they are now experiencing, remember that everyone feels things differently and that their emotions are valid, even if they are opposite to yours. You are there to comfort, so leave any judgement, miracle cures and answers at the door unless they ask for them.

4. Offer practical help

When we are under stress, many of us feel that we should still be able to cope and we are reticent to ask for help. Friends and family tell us, “let me know if I can help,” and you say yes, knowing that you won’t do that because you don’t want to look weak.

When bad things happen, the daily tasks of life can seem overwhelming and this is one area where someone in crisis will accept help. Rather than a generalised offer, suggest something specific that you know will make a difference. Perhaps you could assist by picking up their children from school or by taking them to extra-curricular activities. Offer to help with errands such as picking up their groceries or perhaps you could help with household duties such as gardening, laundry or cleaning. These small tasks provide such great relief to someone who is housebound, unwell or emotionally overwrought.

5. Deliver a home-cooked meal

We all have to eat but when we are under stress, going to medical appointments, dealing with relationship separations or family issues, it becomes all too easy to consume a steady diet of fast food because no one has the time or inclination to cook a healthy meal.

A friend of my husband recently shared that his mother was very ill and was in hospital. The family had spent many hours at the hospital, fitting it in around their usual busy schedule. We decided to provide a meal and I cooked up a large dish of spaghetti bolognaise which we dropped around to their home. It was a small thing for us to do but much appreciated and a welcome change to the fast food they had been eating all week.

These are a few of the things you can do to provide meaningful support. Most importantly, take your cues from the person, pacing your actions in step with their needs.

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