A Good Friend in Bad Times

On Tuesday evenings, I spend two hours with my friends at The Cancer Support Community. Other newly-diagnosed women and I sit in a circle of cushy chairs and couches and talk about coping and suffering. We cry a little and we listen a lot.

I didn’t want to join a support group. I wanted to be at home enjoying my family with my limited energy, not going out to listen to other people’s woes when I am already heavy with my own. But thankfully, I was cajoled into trying it out.
The ladies teach me so much about what is to come; I learn from their experiences and advice over the coming year. I do not feel quite so alone.

Tonight we talk about support – the good and the bad that we each receive. From my own experiences and from those of my group, please allow me to share a brief summary of some suggestions for showing support to someone going through a major adversity:

v     Be a friend and be present – What would you want your friends to do for you if you were the one in the trying life situation? Don’t be shy, jump in there and do, say, and be a kind giver. Whatever you do, don’t say or do nothing.

v     With consistency – Call, stop by, send cards with consistency; prove that your concern is not fleeting, but real and available.  And don’t expect much in return amidst their crisis, even if that means unanswered emails or unreturned phone calls. Persist anyway.

v     Bring food –  Provide healthy meals or snacks; fill their freezer; take them out to lunch; bake them cookies. Basic needs become a major stressor when life is hitting you with hard stuff. Food, help cleaning, running errands, etc - any help maintaining the practical is valuable.

v    Listen – You may worry that you don’t know what to say, but actually, you probably are needed more for your ears than your mouth. Let the person vent without feeling like you need to interject your take. Your questions show your concern.

v     Uplift - If someone genuinely inspires you, tell them. Your encouragement can be more helpful than you might think. Offer this gesture to those close and distant alike; you don’t have to know the person well to tell them something positive. Some of the most moving gestures come from complete strangers.
There it is, just be considerate and consistent. Oh, and bring food.


  1. This is such a wonderful post!!! I think a great many of us will love knowing exactly what to do!!

  2. I know it can be a very difficult situation, and of course, everyone is different. But I hope this can offer a glimmer of help!

  3. It's a great post Jen and something I struggle with. It's so difficult to know what to do that often people fall into the trap of doing nothing at all. On the one hand you want to help but you also want to respect their privacy. You don't know that they already have a freezer filled with casseroles so you send yet another. You know that flowers die but may bring a short lived smile to their face. You contemplate and google different gift ideas but they all seem trivial in the face of the adversity your loved one is facing. You consider a visit but then worry it would be pushy and they may not be up for it. You contemplate giving them a gift certificate to be pampered at their local spa but after spending hours researching spas in their area you wonder if they even enjoy massages. You want to be a good listener but you also don't want to prod them to talk about it since they could simply want a break from thinking about their problems and want to have a "normal" conversation. You think: they know I'm here for them and will ask me if they needed anything....but then you realize that they won't ask.
    Whether it's health, family troubles or personal addictions....it's difficult to know how to respond. To love each other in a way that is welcomed is a tricky thing. However, doing nothing...is worse! :)

  4. That's all so true. Knowing what to do in a specific situation is difficult for everyone, I think. But definitely, doing or saying something is always better than nothing.

    For example, an amazing lip gloss mailed to a friend as a loving gesture is perfect. ;)