Thoughts on Being Helpful When FoFs are Sick

It has been a year since I have blogged.  Thanks to my friends Mark and Sandra who encouraged me to blog again because a topic came thundering my way today.

What to do when FoFs–  1) Family of a Friend, 2) Friend of a Family member 3) Friend of a Friend–get sick, or even die?

Sadly, I got a call today to let me know that a friend’s mother is back in the hospital.  Much of the last 2 months I have been following the mother of a friend fighting leukemia.  A family member has recently lost a dear friend to cancer and just found out another has terminal cancer.

I am sitting with this feeling in the pit of my stomach, like I am about to go over the top of a hill on a roller coaster.  I want to do something, but it never feels like enough, like it’s really helpful.  It is the feeling of ANXIETY–wanting to do something, but feeling helpless.   Not knowing the balance between letting them know you care, but not being annoying.  In this unique situation–IT’S NOT MINE,–I am removed because the action can only really be taken by someone else, so I sit with my anxiety.

So here are some of the things I do in these situations.  I hope my friends and famly find it helpful.  I am honest about trying to relieve my own anxiety, too.  I would love to hear from others who have good ideas about balancing the helpful/annoying in these situations.

1.  I always want to call, but worry they won’t have time to talk to me.  So when I call I say, “I’m just checking in and if you don’t have time to talk, that is fine, I just wanted to let you know I am thinking about you.”  When leaving a message, I say, “YOU DO NOT NEED TO CALL ME BACK” and repeat that I am thinking about them.  My hope is that I am reaching out without being a burden.

2. Instead of asking “What can I do?” I say, “If there is anything that I can do to be helpful, let me know.”  Delegating is NOT what they need to be spending their time on.

3. Actively listen.  If my friend or family member wants to talk about their feelings, as a therapist, I am very comfortable sitting with dark feelings:  sadness, anger, helplessness, family-dynamic complications, etc.  Lots of relective listening, “That must be frustrating,” “I’m sure you’re feeling helpless,” “It would be hard to have to be the responsible one in the family (I hope her family members are kvetching about her to their friends, too).”

4. Send food.  I assume that non-Jewish people also have this instinct, but with we Jews, its a gimme.  When someone dies, we have a Shiva, where we stuff our faces and talk about the person who died or distract their loved ones with inane talk until they can handle talking about their grief.

5.  Help with spouse or children.  If I can’t help my friend or family directly, at least I can support their other FoFs.

6.  Communicate to my circle.  I know this is a common instinct as there is always a flurry of calls or e-mails in these situations.  By communicating amongst ourselves, we are not overwhelming our friend or family member with calls and can coordinate our help.

This blog entry may include nothing new to you, but it was helpful for me to write about it.

Here’s to good health for family and friends, and FoFs (too much to ask at age 42?).  Here’s to wanting to help without being annoying.  I’m so lucky to have friends and family that I want to be there for during the hard times as well as the good.  And here’s to my friends and family who have been there when it was my turn.


One Response to “Thoughts on Being Helpful When FoFs are Sick”

  1. Ann Scholhamer Says:

    I always love your posts. KEEP THEM COMING!!

    Having been in the receiver position – I wholeheartedly agree with all your thoughts and instincts above. Every person makes a difference in these situations.

    Sometimes the thing I (or my family) needed was a hug and a smile – I do believe the world brings us what we need when we need it, and some days I just needed a person to be sincere and genuine in a hello-how-are-you-huggy way. The big gestures are wonderful, and necessary, but those phone calls and knowing someone is out there caring, wanting to contribute in some way, is a huge huge emotional step stool.

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