I have a friend going through some extremely difficult times, and I am trying to be supportive.
But what does that mean?
I just answered my own question: Ask her how she would like you to support her!
Why is that easier said than done?
One problem with asking a friend how she would like to be supported is that she might ask you to do something you don’t want to do. She might ask you to put in more energy and time than you’re comfortable giving.
Why is this so hard? Or is it just hard for me?
I guess I am wary of getting sucked in—that I will suddenly have to do things I don’t like to do—especially social things. I’ll probably have to leave my house, at the least.
Last year a friend’s husband was diagnosed with cancer, and I asked her if there was anything I could do. She said, “Take a walk with me once a week.”
What a relief that was! I am happy to walk with anyone and talk about anything—or not talk if that’s what she wants.
I didn’t have to bring food to my friend’s house and figure out what to say to her husband—that would have been harder for me. (Not the food, but the husband.)
Going for walks with my friend feels like something she’s doing for me, not the other way around.
I have another friend who lives far away, and it’s harder to know how to give her support. Emotions just don’t translate that easily on the phone. I need to see her face.
I also fear that there is nothing I can really do to save her. I can listen. I can commiserate.
But I can’t fix what’s wrong.
Another local friend has to remind me once in a while NOT to try to solve her problems. “You don’t have to fix it,” she tells me.
And it’s true—a sympathetic ear is what she’s looking for, not the solution to her problem.
Haven’t I been annoyed when I just wanted to express my feelings without having someone tell me how to fix things?
Sensitivity is the key, I think, plus clear communication.
I’ll give that a try.