Being a friend to someone going through a difficult time can be tricky. Nobody wants to be that person who brings up a heavy topic on an otherwise “good” day, but we also all want to be the type of friend who digs deeper and asks the tough questions when needed.
I recently shared my experience with having postpartum flashbacks and anxiety, and several friends apologized for not checking on me. But of course they had been in touch and so supportive. I was fine most of the time, and who would even think to ask, “Hey, are you by chance reliving that really scary time you were hospitalized and not sure if your baby would be okay, while also really missing your older child?”
Every time I have experienced a hardship, it has made me look back at how I treated friends under similar circumstances, and how I could have done better.
So, as much for my own understanding as for this post, I asked friends for advice. From infertility, miscarriages, and postpartum depression, to coping with the death of a loved one, here are some of their thoughts:
8 Ways to Help a Friend During a Hard Time
“As someone who suffered through PPD for a year after giving birth, the best advice I have to help is to say, ‘I noticed you’re not yourself. What can I do to help? Do you want me to ask you how you’re doing or to avoid the topic altogether?'”
Don’t Ask, Just Do
“I turned down a lot of requests for meals, but a few friends just sent me care packages, gift cards, and even dropped off beautiful plants. These little surprise gestures, without having to weigh in on what I wanted or needed, was really appreciated.”
“What I remember the most–and try to do now for others in my life who experience a loss–is to just show up. The kind friends who called me as they pulled up to my apartment for a walk or who asked me for lunch (and did not take no for an answer), really helped me survive a difficult year.”
Take Their Cues, But Also Don’t Go MIA
For infertility or any health scare: “Send encouraging texts the day of procedures/important labs. Stay in touch and just be a listening ear if that friend seems to want to talk. Also if she hasn’t updated you in a while, it’s ok out of the blue to say, ‘I’m praying or thinking of you’ and ‘always very hopeful for you’ throughout this journey.”
Talk About Your Experiences
“Being a new mom is a very lonely time. Any time another mom talked about how hard it was for her, too, made it easier for me. I didn’t feel like this happened a lot though. The moms that have suffered through PPD usually don’t want to talk about it, which makes you feel even more alone.”
I know that the first people I texted when I had a miscarriage were those who I knew had experienced it, too. Same with infertility. You never know when your openness will help not only someone in the present but a friend in the future.
Give Them Something to Look Forward To
“A few months after the loss of my dad, my friends decided it would be a good idea to plan a girls’ trip. It gave me something to look forward to and get excited about at a time when I didn’t want to even get out of bed.”
“It was very important to have fun things to do with my friends: dinners, local festivals, movies, the farmers market, etc. Just having friends call me up and ask me to go do things was so important for my mental health.”
Watch Out for Triggers
“My brother died by suicide at 26, and whenever a young male celebrity died around that same age (Heath Ledger) or a beloved celebrity died by the same cause (Robin Williams) I would go into a tailspin and would have appreciated friends reaching out and seeing how I was doing.”
I try to recall the general (or specific if I know it) due dates of friends who had miscarriages. If I’m on my game, I’ll send a card. If not, a text or email works to let them know that I am still thinking about them.
How to Communicate
I think this one especially comes down to the person, the situation, and how well you know her.
“Text or email before you call. People often think that the sensitive nature of the situation deserves a phone call or in person conversation, but for some that can feel overwhelming and daunting. I found text or email easier because you can put the phone or computer down to gather your thoughts.”
“Something as simple as reaching out through text can make someone’s day a little bit brighter.”
“It’s never too late to send or say something. People have lots of support at the beginning, but checking in a month, six months, or a year later can sometimes open up a dialogue that was too raw to have right away.”
So if a friend has been on your mind–whether it’s from something she’s currently going through or from a time years ago that you are still kicking yourself for not doing more–now is the perfect time to let her know you are thinking about her.
She may be 100 percent okay and not need your support; but then again, when are we ever 100 percent not in need of friends?
P.S. If your friend lost a loved one and you’re able, always go to the funeral.