Whether your friend has had a miscarriage, found out her child has autism, or is struggling through a spouse’s deployment overseas with a newborn at home (been there, done that!), it’s easy to misstep when you are trying to help.
The most common well-meaning offense is the vague, “Let me know how I can help.” It’s better to make a tangible and real offer of something specific, so you’re not putting the weight of decision-making on someone who’s already burdened. The best way to help is to say something very specific, such as “Are you allergic to anything? I’m bringing you dinner,” or “When can I watch your kids so you can go get groceries? Tuesday?”
As I write this, my husband, a chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserves, is doing his annual training for a month away from me and our two toddlers. Our air conditioning broke during a humid heat wave and I twisted my ankle. We live in the Midwest and our families are on both coasts, so I flew with the kids to see grandparents for two weeks but now I’m home and leaning heavily on friends. Certainly, there are those who fare worse. But if you have someone in your life who could use a little help (and love!), here are a few ideas.
Do your research. Is your friend the kind of person who loves surprises or prefers planned things? What is on her wish list (quality time; gifts; words of affirmation; acts of service; hugs)? Does she like watching movies? Taking baths? Time alone at the gym? Does she have a public wish list on a shopping website? Have a conversation about what can be helpful for her so you are assisting in ways that speak to her specifically. A couple of years ago, soon after my husband returned from Afghanistan, a neighbor learned that we had never had a Christmas tree in our five years of marriage — couldn’t afford it, didn’t have the appropriate accoutrements — and left a fully decorated tree on our deck for us to find. It’s hard to top her gesture, but she couldn’t have done it if she hadn’t done some research.
Pop over with a treat. Drop off a favorite coffee drink one morning. Call in the afternoon for a dinner order and pick it up from a local takeout place. Hand off home-cooked freezer meals or pre-peeled and sliced healthy finger foods — because it’s nice to have carrot sticks and cheese slices in lieu of junk food sometimes. Or drop off a DVD rental or flowers. These small gestures can carry someone through a tough day.