How to Help a Friend through a Hard Time

Stephanie Gates

I had a plan.

When I was 26, I knew exactly how my life was supposed to go. I knew where my husband and I would live and how many children we would have. I had a blueprint for my life, and I thought I knew exactly what would happen next.

I never once included any hardship in my plans.

So when my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, I was floored. I had never dreamed I could lose a baby. It goes without saying I never imagined four stair-step babies, another miscarriage, a cross-country move, a life-altering accident for my husband, or a near-death experience with one of my children.

Acquaintances showed up at the ER, kind strangers watched my children so I could go to the hospital, churches organized meals, and extended family used every resource to be present when we needed them most. Over and over, we have been overwhelmed by the love and care of our family and friends in a time of crisis.

Every time I have been the recipient of that overwhelming love, I’ve worked to remember what is most helpful to me. I wanted to know how to help others whentheymost need it. Maybe you have a friend whose husband is sick, or who just lost a baby. We all have moments when life does not follow our plan. If you have a friend in trouble, here is how you can help.

1.Do something.

Bake a cake, vacuum her living room, or offer to make her carpool run for a few days. It may feel like a small gesture, but in a time of crisis, our actions are enormously important. Through them, you communicate love and concern, and remind your friend she is not alone. When there are no words, our actions are a powerful comfort to the people we love.

2.Stay engaged.

Your friend may drop off the radar for a while. She may stop returning phone calls or texts. Often we are the least engaged with our loved ones right when we need them most. Maybe she is distracted, maybe she is busier than usual, or maybe she is withdrawing from her friends. Most likely, her lack of response isn’t personal. Respect her space, but don’t be afraid to call again in a few days. She needs you to stay engaged in your friendship, even if she is not.

3.Keep her confidences.

Before you share her story, ask. She may not be ready to field questions and advice, or she may welcome others’ interest and interpret it as genuine concern. Either way, she will appreciate that you asked first. If you do share her story with others, choose your words carefully. Crises draw out raw emotions in all of us. Be a safe place for your friend. Make sure she knows you will hold her words as the sacred trust they are.

4.Follow her lead.

There is no script for life’s hardest moments, and there is a wide range of healthy ways to process them. Let your friend set the pace for what happens next. Is she anxious to talk about normal things again? Tell her your latest embarrassing kid story. Is it overwhelming to see a baby bump after losing her own? Maybe you can meet for coffee instead of your usual moms’ group for a while. Grief is a strange creature. Let her set the pace for how she will heal. If you will meet her wherever she is, it will mean more than you can possibly imagine.

Hard moments may always surprise us, but there are practical ways you can support your friend when life does not go according to plan.

I am Stephanie – mom to four beautifully rambunctious little kids and wife to a guy who still makes me smile. Recently I moved to Colorado, where I fell in love with the mountain air and the Anglican church. Join me if you have ever abandoned religion in search of faith, ever had to leave your hometown to find your home, or ever climbed to the very tip-top of a jungle gym to rescue an overzealous toddler.

What has been the most comforting thing a friend has done for you when life has not gone according to plan?