In the last 18 months, several friends and family members have faced very difficult life circumstances, from devastating health diagnoses to the death of a child, grandchild, or spouse. 

I’ve given significant thought to how I can best serve those family and friends. I’ve read books and articles on the subject and listened as friends share what was a blessing to them during a difficult time, and I’ve come up with a few ideas that I thought I’d share. Of course, you should only do what you feel is appropriate for *you* to do.

First, and most importantly, always remember that each person and each situation is, regardless how similar they may seem to another, quite different. As a result, what is appropriate in one situation or with one person may well not be appropriate in or with another. Keep that in mind as you continue reading.

1. If you are so inclined, pray. Pray fervently and frequently.

2. In the case of an illness, don’t forget the caregiver(s).

3. At a time when those involved are most approachable and emotions are not running high, ask what you may do for them. I prefer to ask this question in a text, email, or pm. That allows the other person time to give the question some thought. I also often offer some suggestions (run errands, babysit their children, start a meal chain, for example) with an “etc” at the end of the list.

4. Offer encouragement in the form of frequent/regular cards, texts, emails, etc. One friend told me that one thing she treasured when she was battling cancer was the daily funny cat-meme that a dog-loving friend sent every morning. Don’t expect a response.

5. Assure the other person that any/everything they share and all circumstances you are aware of will remain confidential UNLESS they specifically ask you to share them with someone else. Then, of course, respect their privacy by not sharing anything with anyone.

6. Follow through on whatever you say you will do. If, for example, you tell someone you will pray for them, do so.

Here are some don’ts:

1. Don’t be offended or hurt if the other person doesn’t share or doesn’t “allow” you to do anything for them. Don’t take it personally. Remember, none of this is about you. 

2. It bears repeating. Do NOT share information, details, etc., with anyone without being asked to do so. If someone else — a friend, acquaintance, etc — begins sharing information, do not chime in. In fact, you might want to simply walk away. Make an excuse if you must, but don’t get involved in such a conversation.

3. Don’t say “I know what you’re going through”. In fact, ditch all the platitudes. A simple “I am so sorry” or “Please know I love you and am thinking of you” and a hug — or even just a hug — is far better. 

4. Don’t offer unsolicited advice.

5. Don’t bring up your own similar experience or that of anyone else *unless* you are asked about it.

6. Don’t judge. Don’t judge the other person’s feelings, decisions, actions, etc. Just don’t.

7. Don’t disappear.

8. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. For example, after my father died, I hesitated to mention him around my mother. After my own husband died, I realized that as much as hearing his name hurt, it was far more hurtful to think that he was being forgotten, and I was grateful when people mentioned him.

I’m sure I’ve missed some key points, so I hope that you’ll join in the conversation by sharing your own suggestions and thoughts.