1. Be her good fairy of transportation. Logistics can be twice as hard to manage when you’re suffering. Extra travel and parking costs are often overlooked. Help your friend by gifting her a pass for parking, subways or Uber. Or let her out-of-town family borrow your second car while they’re visiting, or pick them up from the airport. If she lives in a city, volunteer to move her car for street cleaning or a snow emergency. Don’t wait for an invitation; a grieving friend may not even know what she needs until it’s too late, and having to ask for help may make her feel like a burden.
2. Break out your secret ninja skill. Sometimes, we panic about how to help someone—a hot dish seems trite, a card too simple. This fear can lead to not doing anything or offering vague promises of help like “If you need anything...” Consider instead doing what you already like doing. If you’re the organized type, tackle her teetering pile of bill statements and paperwork, keep a log of calls and letters sent, or make her a binder of practical information about her problems (say, support groups, pizza coupons, babysitter numbers). If you enjoy kids, volunteer to pick up hers when she can’t. If you make homemade pasta, make her some. Do her scrapbooking. Help her finish her knitting project. The key is to do something you want to do, that you’re already good at and enjoy doing, because you’ll be more likely to actually do it, and do it with joy instead of a feeling of obligation.
3. Send her a dancing taco. If you’re on your phone all day anyway, use your powers for good. Text her something every day: a 30 Rock GIF, a video of a cat on a Roomba, a dancing taco. You don’t need to say anything profound. Be persistent, even if she doesn’t always reply—and make sure she knows she doesn’t have to reply (example: P.S. No response needed xxo!). Just the act of getting a daily text lets her know you’re thinking of her, which will mean a lot.
4. Add sequins. Don’t underestimate the power of a small gift—silly or thoughtful—that she’d never think to ask for. A whoopee cushion for her hospital room’s visitor chair. A jar filled with little pieces of paper, with a reason you love her written on each one. Covering her doormat in rainbow sequins. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture; doing something small can be just as meaningful, and it’s so much better than the alternative of doing nothing.
5. Be her humane resource at work. Sending flowers to a co-worker is thoughtful, but it may be too public a demonstration in the office—especially if her troubles aren’t widely known. If she’s running out of vacation and sick leave, can you donate some of your time off? If you can’t, offer to take on the tedious, time-consuming tasks so she doesn’t have to stay late, or lend a hand with a knotty assignment. Nothing says “I’m here for you” like doing her big, ugly pile of filing.
6. Say, “I know this is tough.” Let her know you’re there for her. If you don’t know what to say, it’s okay to tell her that.
7. Say...nothing. Silence is a natural part of listening, and it only feels awkward because we’re not used to it. Try to let her talk while you listen without judgment or trying to solve her problem. The great news: Listening is so much easier than struggling to come up with the “right” thing to say, and it’s way more supportive. Your willingness to simply show up and bear witness to her pain is one of the best things you can give her.
Kelsey Crowe, PhD, and Emily McDowell are the authors of There Is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love.