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Supporting Friends & Family During Illness
Today at a playground I met an adult taking care of a child I thought I recognized. In the course of our conversation, the adult told me about some health issues that the child's mother was facing. If I identified the child correctly, the mother is an old friend of mine (not too close, somewhere on the friend/acquaintance border) whom I haven't seen in some time. I was planning to ask the child's name, but they left before I was able to. At any rate, I would very much like to get back in touch with my friend -- partly because I enjoy her company, and partly because if she's ill I'd like to help her in whatever way I can. However, I'm not sure how best to do this. Because her condition is one that some people might find stigmatizing, I don't know how she'd feel knowing that the other adult spoke to me about it. On the other hand, if I don't mention that I spoke to the other adult, it might be awkward if that person later realizes that I know the mom. I hope the wise and compassionate members of our community can help me decide how best to proceed. Many thanks. anon, please
I just reconnected with an old friend whom I love dearly, but with whom I had no contact for about 7 years. Our break in contact was surprising and unexplained-- she had been living overseas and we corresponded regularly. Then, without warning there was no response, my letters were returned with no forwarding address. I tried some of her friends I had known, and they didn't know what had happened either. I searched high and low for her, to no avail. Finally she called me last summer and I was certain we'd get our friendship back on track. Then many more months followed, with no response to my frequent calls. Today I learned that she is actually quite ill, but know no details about what is going on. It apparently has been going on for at least a few years, and it's serious enough that she cannot work (she was previously very career focused, and I know this is a big deal for her.) She specifically told me she does not want to discuss it. I don't know what to do: I very much want to support her but don't know how. I feel like I just said all the wrong things. She said her hesitation to be in touch was mostly because of her depression related to her illness and her not wanting to make me sad because of it. I suspect it also may be difficult for her to talk with people in different life situations (I had three children during the time we were out of touch; she always wanted to remarry and have children. I would not say my life is perfect, but from her perspective it may seem that way.) I just ache for her and wish I could find a way to support her, but I'm so afraid I may not talk to her again. I have no idea what her illness is. I hate that she may be feeling alone during this. But I want to respect her privacy and feelings. Any words of advice? worried and far away.
So, if you have your friend's best interests at heart (even 'though it is very difficult) perhaps you can do one of two things: 1) Send her notes by mail periodically to let her know you are thinking of her, or to remind her of a time in the past that you two had fun together, or to tell her something that you appreciate about her (and don't ask for a reply or expect one). or 2) Send her one note saying that she is in your thoughts and that she can call you any time she needs to. Sometimes the best thing we can do for those who we love and want to help, is to back off, not be so in-their-face, and love them silently from afar, without overburdening them. Focus on what she needs, and not on what you need. Anonymous
Keep it light, consistent and responsive to what she is saying/writing. I found it does work, and there is a lot to be gained. I have tried to do all of the above and as a result feel a lot closer to a dear friend. anon
My good friend, who lives in Maryland, had a baby 4 weeks ago, and the baby is still in ICU with a very serious heart problem. I'm at a loss about how to help her through this. She's obviously very sad, as I would be, and I just don't know how I can be a good friend to her. I don't want to recommend a book for her to read about coping, or a therapist to help her through this. Rather, I am looking for gestures that I, personally, can do for her. Daily Letters? Constant calls? Occasional flower deliveries? None of these seem appropriate - but I just don't know. Does anyone have any advice about what a friend can do for another friend during this horrible time? Thank you in advance. Maryanne
In my opinion, the main thing is not to shy away from speaking with your friend and being for there for her. Many people are so intimidated by these kinds of difficult situations that they are often afraid to talk with people or are obviously uncomfortable talking with them. The friends who were most helpful to me were the friends who were able to be comfortable spending time with me, the friends with whom I was able to have the same relationship as before my dad died. I was able to spend time with them and they were able to follow my lead about whether I wanted to talk about my dad and how I was feeling or whether I just wanted to chat about life or gossip or hang out together.
I don't think it's that important exactly what you do, but that you don't avoid your friend and don't avoid talking about her baby (which may be something she wants to talk about). Only really stupid comments (like ''I know how you feel, my dog died last year'') are hurtful; pretty much anything people say helps if it conveys that they care about you and your loved one.
Hope that helps. Hope the baby does well. Laura
We communicated by email. The happy news is that the baby seems to be doing great with all tests and development. Good luck to your friend. Jill
I had a friend a few years ago who was in a similar predicament. She couldn't make any sort of plans or commitments, and although I asked, she didn't want me to come see the baby. So I just kept calling. Even if I just left messages at least I knew she knew I was thinking of her and her family. In fact, when I would get her on the phone, she would ask me to call her again.
I also just wrote notes, telling her I was there etc. I found she would hardly ever call me, but I just kept calling.
Food is always helpful --one thing you might do is to find out from a relative or neighbor in the area if there are any restaurants that do take out or delivery your friend really likes. Then you can call the restaurant and give them your credit card number for whatever amount.
Good luck. Mollie
First of all, don't be afraid to call her. Give her the space to talk or return the call when/if she feels up to it. And listen to her. Let her talk. She doesn't need advice, pep talks, versions of someone else's NICU story or your pity.
Even though you live far away from each other you can still ''be there'' for her in many ways. One thing that was helpful to us was having a few people field calls and relay updates to other friends and extended family. This eliminated the stress of having to tell the same story again and again, which can be absolutely unbearable. Maybe you can offer to compose and send out weekly updates to friends and family via email for them?
Don't worry too much about doing something concrete. Believe me, your friendship is the best gift of all.
I hope everything turns out OK... Fellow mom
At some point they will come home from the hospital (I hope with their child). Meals would be a good thing to provide, if you can find a service that can do that, or friends who are physically closer, who can help coordinate it. It can be horribly hard to gather the energy for self-care when you are concerned with the life of your child. Doing concrete things, like providing for meals, is better than offering ''anything I can do,'' because (as with energy for self-care) it can be too difficult for the parents to think of things for others to do for them.
If you do get to talk to them on the phone, be prepared to listen more than talk. Please keep the stories of people you know in similar situations, ''and everything turned out just fine!'' to a minimum, because every situation is different, and if things go more wrong (I hope they do not), the stories of how other people got to keep their child will only deepen the hurt.
I wish your friends and their child so much luck. Donna
I would not dismiss the impact of phone calls, particularly since you are so far away. Every day or every other day is not excessive. Make sure she knows she is not obligated to return every call -- you are just calling to tell her you are thinking about them and she can call when she feels like it. Also, when you do talk to her, ask about the details of her baby's medical condition and progress. Most people in this situation need to talk about it, and the fact that you are interested in details shows your level of interest is far higher than almost anyone's. You'd be amazed at the number of people who talk about anything else but the problem. Don't worry that talking about it will make her sad -- she is already sad. Talking won't make her more sad. If she doesn't want to talk, she won't call.
I do remember being touched by the people who sent flowers, but what was most useful were gifts of food. We wanted to spend every possible minute at the hospital with the baby. Food almost became an afterthought. One friend brought a lasagna and my sister-in-law send a cookie bouquet! Most useful for snacks when you are so drained by the routine of hospital and home. There are a lot of places to mail order food. Much more useful than flowers.
You are right about the letters. For me, they probably would have remained unopened until after the ordeal was over. The only other thing I remember was the people who actually came to the hospital to see the baby. In your case, being on the opposite coast makes that a little difficult.
Hope this helps, feel free to e-mail me if you need any more ideas. Lisa
1) Yes, calls to let them know you're thinking about them are helpful. Maybe best to call the home answering machine. And periodically say that there's no need to call back unless they feel like it. 2) Flowers are also nice. 3) Food -- the best. Either delivered or just a big box of healthy snacks they can eat in the hospital. 4) Cards, ''just thinking about you,'' etc., are thoughtful. No need to write a lot in them. Better to send a bunch, i.e. one every 2 weeks, then send one long one. 5) E-mails, if they are email people. When my uncle died I sent one a week or so to my aunt, ''just sending you some email hugs,'' etc. She said it meant so much after so many people seemed to be thinking she should be getting over it by then and didn't need the attention.
Someone mentioned that it's best to always keep a positive attitude. I don't agree. I was more comforted by the friends who were sad with me when I was hurt and sad than the ones who were always cheery. Sometimes you need to cry with your friends.
And don't forget the spouse. Sometimes the mother gets all the attention. So when you're leaving a msg, address it to both the parents.
Most of all, keep up the contact. It means the most when people keep checking in.
Don't be a ''if I can do anything...'' person; just do something! Almost anything will be appreciated. Been through some sad times.
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