Helping Others Through Tough Times

It really sucks when a friend is going through something incredibly challenging like an illness, miscarriage/still born, or the death of a family member. You want to help but don't know how. Here are suggestions from Park Slope Parents about ways to help others.

team-spirit-2447163 640


Things you can do: 

Helping take care of the logistics can be a huge help.
Your friend and their primary partner/ caregiver will most likely have a big mental load of what they have to do to just keep the household running. As a friend, you can help shoulder that burden by:  

Organizing rosters for childcare.
If you can take someone's child for a few hours or half a day to help someone tackle their massive to do list. 

Coordinating meal delivery. (see below)
This can be done remotely, and there are online resources that can help with this, more information below.

If the person you are helping is dealing with a health issue and illness, offer to help with all the paperwork associated with their illness.
This can include things like:
- helping to schedule appointments
- asking financial services to lift holds on her account
- filing paperwork on treatment days

Keep your emotions in check:
Your desire to help your friend can be added work on them. If you give a gift, give it with a "please don't send me a thank you card" that can be a huge relief.

Tangible Help

Buy a journal.  The person may not be ready to write anything in the journal right away, but it may be a place that he/she can express their feelings privately, take important notes, or otherwise have a token of your care.

Arrange a distracting and fun activity for the kids (if relevant).  Even a few hours or a half day to help people tackle their massive to do list knowing that their kid(s) is having fun is helpful! Take them to the movies, golfing, the zoo-- something that will allow the kids some time to be kids.

Give a food gift card. Seamless, Grubhub, something so they don't have to worry about heating up food or thinking or talking to a person. 

Ask if a gift certificate for a massage, mani/pedi, or something that may make him/her feel special.

Organize therapy sessions. Help locate therapists who take the person's insurance and gather reviews.  (Ask first)

Organize other types of support. If it's a bereavement issue, hospices offer bereament support to the community whether or not the deceased was treated by them. More information > and More information > both offer emotional support by text/phone, not specifically beteavement but could be good if a convo w/ an anonymous, kind person trained in empathy would help.

Help with phone calls. Much like helping locate therapists, sitting next to your friend and making phone calls and staying on hold can be helpful. You'll need to be close by because of the high security in giving information, but if someone is close by that hurdle can be jumped.  


Organize food, funding, car rides, and more, using the power of technology and social networks to coordinate help. 

Resources to help you organize help and a network.

Food Delivery:  If organizing food make sure someone can be there for delivery. That may be an extra step you need to help arrange. Call before bringing anything, but bagels and cream cheese on a weekend morning or a dinner with fixins can be very comforting.  If folks have older kids offering to make lunch for school can be super helpful!


Meal Train  Meal Train helps friend organize and plan meals and food delivery for friend  How it works: Enter your friend's name, email address, and where to drop off meals. Enter the dates meals would be helpful. Enter your friend’s food likes, dislikes, allergies, and the best time to drop off a meal.  Invite friends, family, congregation members via email, Facebook, twitter, newsletters, and more. Invited friends respond to the invitation, sign up for a date, and take a meal.

Lotsa Helping Hands  With the Help Calendar, you can post requests for support - things like meals for the family, rides to medical appointments, or just stopping by to visit.  Members of your community can quickly find ways to help, and Lotsa will send reminders and help coordinate logistics automatically so nothing falls through the cracks. Supporting caregivers, Lotsa Helping Hands is largely about communication. Announcements make it easy to keep the community in the loop on how things are going, while Well Wishes let the community shower the family with love, posting prayers or notes of encouragement.

Caring Bridge Caring Bridge social network for family and friends to communicate with loved ones during a health journey. Anyone,anywhere can create a free personal website to easily share updates and receive the love and strength they need from their community during an illness or injury.

GoFundMe  If you can raise money for extras like  a car service, plane tickets, gift cards for food, or other things it might be a nice touch. 




On communication:

Meet the person where they are.
When you are speaking with your friend, get a sense for how the person wants to talk about the experience they are going through. Some people request no questions or comments about their health status (mental or physical), and just want positive conversation. Others actually like to talk about what they are going through and welcome friends reaching out and an ear to listen to their problems. So, get a sense from them what approach they may prefer. Don't push when them when they say things like "I don't want to talk/think about it," or if the person tries to change the conversation after you ask how they are doing, take take that as a cue to shift the topic.

Maintain consistent communication.
"I also truly appreciated those who reached out to give ideas on how to support my friend at this difficult time, especially when being so far away. Some good points included: 
- Checking in on her weeks or months after the stillbirth. Most of the outreach comes in the immediate aftermath, but people reported needing the most support a month or two down the line, when it felt like others had moved on but they were struggling. 
- Not just emailing and texting, but Facetiming to see each other and have a live conversation. The time difference has made that difficult so far, but I am going to try again this weekend.  
- "Set some reminders for yourself to check in with her at 2 weeks out, 6 weeks out, 10 weeks out, to help her feel supported that people still care, that it still matters."
- Over time, reminding the entire family that we remember their child, love their child and will never forget them. Letting them talk about their loss, whether now or years down the line."

Send supportive texts.
“Just thinking about you” “Don’t forget to take care of YOU” (for caregivers) and “Sending you strength” can be just a pick me up to someone’s day.  Google images like “fierce dragon,” “warrior goddess,” “hugging kittens” “lion” and send a photo of things that represent strength. Google “supportive quotes” and send a quote. Include in the text, "no need to reply if you don't want" so your text doesn't become something they feel like another "to do" item.

Keep checking in. Write down dates that will become anniversaries and check in.  Once the flood of support resides, it's great to check in a month, 3 months, 6 months later. If it's a grief situation, anniversaries, birthdadys, and death days are hard and checking in can feel like other people are mindful of your headspace. 

Help keep things as normal as possible. While you're not helping "avoid" issues, shielding kids from the overwhelming uncertainty can be helpful to them. Letting "kids be kids" is really important. 

Keep it real - and authentic.
"I’ve used these cards by Emily McDowell so often." 

em gc267 illness journey empathy 2 1024x1024em gc263 everything happens for empathy 2 1024x1024

Other Support:

Keep checking in/offering support after the year anniversary, at birthdays, and other days that can be tough. It actually gets harder in some ways later because the support fades away.


Useful reading from around the web:

What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
1. Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
2. Give people only as much information as they can handle.
3. Don’t take their power away.
4. Keep your own ego out of it.
5. Make them feel safe enough to fail.
6. Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.
7. Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc.
8. Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.
Read the full article by Heather Plett at Uplift Connect.

 What should I say to someone grieving


How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick
by Letty Cottin Pogrebin
More information >


Other PSP Advice:

Be sure to join one our Specialty or Tough Stuff Groups to talk with other local Parents who are dealing with similar issues.

What to Bring a Friend with Bed Rest

Things to do for new parents home from the hospital