When I was eight years old, I had Rheumatic Fever—a condition many doctors don’t even diagnose any more. Besides feeling tired at times, I felt great. Even so, my family doctor banished me to my bed for five months. For my family, it was a huge adjustment. My parents lost some of their freedoms and I missed the last half of the fourth grade.
Every day after school my best friend, Karla, sat on the end of my bed and told me what I had missed at school. We made up games we could play without getting up (one, I remember, involved being on a ship sailing to Europe). Karla brought me games and treats, puzzles and letters from my class. Many evenings, she ate her dinner on a TV tray. Sitting in a chair by my bed, we watched The Brady Bunch together before she had to be home when the streetlights came on.
When I think about that spring, I marvel at the devotion my nine-year-old friend showed me. At the time, it seemed natural that she would be there—right by my side. Our friendship didn’t skip a beat. When I was finally released to get up, we picked up right where we left off. I dusted off my bike and we hit the pavement. I had made it through a difficult time with the help of my best friend.
It’s easy to be a friend when everything is going great. We love to celebrate weddings and births, birthdays and promotions. We toast special moments and celebrate accomplishments. Unfortunately, however, difficult times are a part of life and as a friend, it’s important to be there for those moments, too.
If you have ever had to offer condolences to a friend who has lost a loved one, you know how difficult it can be. We don’t want to overstep the bounds of friendship, but we want to be there when needed. Inevitably we ask, “What can I do?” and wait for a list of duties. More often than not, however, our friend has no idea what she needs. Sometimes, all we can do is listen and provide tissues. In other instances, however, our assistance with everyday tasks becomes a welcome support. We all want to be there during difficult times but we may not know where to begin. Here are some simple acts of friendship to help make a trying time a bit easier for someone who is grieving.
Take care of everyday tasks.
It may be overwhelming for your friend to attend to simple daily tasks. If she has a pet, feeding and watering may go undone. Step in and offer to walk the dog, change the cat litter or even take the pets to the kennel if needed. Water flowers, cut the grass or do a load of laundry. Household chores just may be too much for your friend to think about and these are things that take little effort but ease her mind.
Assist with meals, appointments and errands.
In the first days, your friend may be bombarded with casseroles, cakes and pies. Certainly, this is our first instinct—to cook for those who are grieving. An outpouring of community support is shown in the first few weeks after a death, and more cooking probably won’t be needed. What is needed is support after those first few weeks. One helpful website to organize meals and household chores is lotsahelpinghands.com.
This site establishes an opportunity for people to offer their help in meal preparation and other tasks via a sign-up sheet and schedule. Your friend can even log on to see who is providing the evening meal or to indicate her need for assistance running errands or tackling difficult chores. In some instances, you may be too far away to bring over a meal or run an errand. It may be a welcome change for your friend to have her favorite salad for dinner instead of a heavy meal, so arrange to have restaurant delivery or send gift cards in the mail. If you have the means, consider having a restaurant deliver an assortment of entrees packaged for the freezer to be reheated as needed. Distance needn’t prohibit you from helping a friend in need, and she will be thankful for the brief respite from meal planning and preparation.
Help with the kids.
Even in the best of times, our kids’ schedules can be a difficult balancing act. If your friend has children involved in sports or music, offer to provide a taxi service to and from the rink, pool or school. For younger children, schedule a play date or even an overnight at your home. Keeping children’s routine as normal as possible will help them deal with the upheaval they may be sensing. Be prepared, however, to field potential questions they may have and make certain you know what your friend wants you to say. Thoughtful, age-appropriate answers can help them understand what is happening during a stressful time.
Just be there.
As much as we want to help, we still may not know what our friend truly needs. Make sure she knows that a phone call in the middle of the night is OK, and you are there if she needs you. Listen to stories, look at photo albums, and when she’s ready, take her to lunch. Don’t push your friend to socialize too quickly after a loss, but don’t leave her out of your plans. Make certain she knows she’s a welcome addition to the group when she is ready to return.
Being a good friend means basking in sunny days and weathering life’s storms. The support you offer a friend in need may be just the thing that gets her through a difficult time.