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Sunday, October 26, 2014

how to help a friend through a tough time

As you know, my good friend's house burned down in a fire about a month ago. It was devastating, not only with material and physical things, but of course emotionally. It's something I know most of us cannot comprehend or imagine happening to us. It's so sad to think about.

When a friend goes through something tough, especially when you have a friend who is also a mother to young children, you find yourself wanting to do all you can to support her, to help her through that tough time.

Here is me and my friend when we were in high school! These survived her house fire. It made me tear up seeing that some things survive tough moments.

The day I found out about my friend's house fire, I wanted to stop everything I was doing and rush to New York to be by her side. I wanted to DO something, hug her, just be there. But I have two kids and a full-time job and I knew honestly I'd be in the way if I rushed down right that moment. If I were going to go for a 5-hour trip to another state, I wanted it to be worth it for her, not for me, but for her. I wanted to give her all of my help, in a time when she could really use it. I figured there would be so many people there in the moments right after it happened that she could wait for me to come.

So I knew I'd go in the next few weeks. I wasn't exactly sure when, I figured I'd take her lead and wait it out to see when I could be used most.

Exactly a week after her fire, I was folding laundry and talking to my friend on the phone. She was having the worst two days she'd had since the fire the weekend before. She was crying, so sad, missing her animals. She didn't want to work on cleaning things up in the aftermath. She didn't want to deal, she wasn't sure how to move forward yet. I could hear it in her voice. She needed me.

I went back and forth in my head, should I go today? Should I go next weekend? I went downstairs and moved laundry from the washer to the dryer. The dryer. It made me think of my friend and all she'd lost... the dryer caused the fire.

So I went upstairs to my husband, told him that I knew it was last minute, but I HAD to go to NY today, right now, to see my friend. He totally understood. I whipped around the house and packed clothes and items for myself and one of our kids, while my husband and son stayed home. I left 45 minutes later and surprised my friend 5 hours later. She was SO happy seeing me.

My Instagram caption to this photo said "Sometimes you have to drive 5 hours to give your friend a hug." It's true. I had also helped to raise $7,000+ that week to go toward supporting their rebuilding of their home. I said my friend's face when seeing me there surprising her was priceless compared to the money we'd raised. Sometimes it's the little things - or in this case it was a bigger thing, it meant putting her as a priority over my own household chores, etc. - mean the most.

While there, my sister and I did lots of things including listening, getting her to laugh, eating chocolate, making dinner, taking her shopping to get clothes, helping her sort through things that were filled with smoke and needing to be washed, making piles of clothes that were donated that fit and things that didn't fit and could be donated elsewhere, playing with her daughter, talking about thank you notes, processing, hugging, and even walked to the scene of their property... to really take it all in and let her know I'm here for you, I see it, I see what you're going through, I can't fix it, but I'm here. I know it helped her a lot.

It's easy to feel helpless, unsure of where to begin to support your friend.

Here are some ideas that may be useful if you find your friend on bed rest from a tough pregnancy, after a miscarriage, going through a separation from a partner, a loss of a family member, etc. Not all suggestions below will apply to each situation, but hopefully this list of ideas resonates with you when trying to come up with even one small thing you can do to help a friend through a challenging time.

How to help a friend in need:

  • Provide food. This doesn't have to be something homemade, even take out or gift cards to Subway or restaurants you know they enjoy is a good idea. Sometimes people need a night off to stay in and not cook, other times they need a night out but probably won't spend the money or take themselves out without a gift card. If you make something, don't send your dish, get  disposable one so they don't have to think of one more thing to return to someone. 
  • Do laundry or other chores. Stop by and while there just work your way into folding laundry, putting dishes in the dishwasher, sweeping the floor, etc. You can't do this for just acquaintances probably, but for good friends and family, make them know you get it, it's fine, you're here to help.
  • Provide the little things. My sister went to the grocery store after our friend's fire and purchased the little food that she knew our friend enjoys, like cottage cheese or toothbrushes that they needed. Another one of her friends gave her running shoes and attire, because she knew that was so important to her lately especially for stress-relief. Think about the things nobody else will consider - like running shoes or a gift card to buy favorite perfume. Or if you know she lost a bracelet that's so important to her, and you know she won't be putting money into replacing those things right away... get that as a gift to say "I love you, I am here." 
  • Get something to make her feel better about herself. This could be a bracelet like I said or a pretty scarf to make her feel better, or even just a gift card to pick out nice jeans instead of only wearing what was donated. 
  • Consider the adults. With my friend's fire, so many people came out immediately to support their young child. That was so wonderful. I just noticed that the adults needed more. It's easier to buy for the kids, so that's usually what happens and it's awesome! But then consider something for the adults - movie tickets to get out and relax a bit; doing some chores or accompanying them to do the chores they have to do; food or gift cards to go out; clothing for them, etc. 
  • Make them laugh. Remind them it's OK to be funny sometimes even in the face of a tragedy. Get them out for coffee or ice cream or something.
  • Just be with them. What I think helped our friend the most was my sister and I just going with her to several stops she needed to make after the tragedy. She needed to go to the store to buy clothes for work, so we just went with her and helped her pick things out. She needed some food, so we went to pick it up. Just being there through the things your friend already has to do is helpful. 
  • Reassure them that what they feel is normal. I think moms who go through things struggle to be OK with being upset, being mad, or just feeling down. They may see things that are positive and think those make up for the negative... but really it's OK to feel bad. I know that especially moms will do their best to keep moving, be OK for their kids... but really it's OK to not feel OK, go through the emotions. Tell them that's normal and you're there to listen.
  • Keep in touch. It's so hard to do this one, as busy moms ourselves, we usually cannot take on one more thing in our busy days and lives. However, when a friend goes through a tough tragedy, it's important to be there. Maybe you're the only person who can or will be there that much, so you have to take that responsibility seriously. I called my friend 1-2 times a day the first two weeks after the fire, then was texting and keeping in touch every few days after that. Sometimes we'd talk for 2 minutes, other times for an hour. Just be there. It's important. 
  • Help however you can. For me, being 5 hours away and in another state, it was tough to help my friend with the little things at first. So I did what I could. I set up a Go Fund Me Web site for people to donate to them. I was states away but raising money, it felt so good to help in that way. I also offered to help make a list of things they need to add to the insurance list of what they lost. I could sit in my house 5 hours away and make that list, I didn't need to be right near her. There are some things you can do to support your friend from far away, just ask and offer. 
Just a few things that may help in times of need. Just being there honestly is the best thing. 

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