You want to help your neighbor or friend, and you want to show her you care, but you’re not quite sure what to say or do. What’s appropriate? What is a misstep? What might be seen as just lip service?
Many I have spoken to, both personally and professionally, profess that they don’t know what to do or say in situations that their neighbors or friends encounter–it might be miscarriage, job loss, illness, or a child who is struggling. Nobody wants to say something hurtful or misstep, often resulting in the worst thing: doing nothing.
I compiled this list after multiple discussions with clients and their families.
1. Say something after thinking it through.
A card in the mail is best; a text or email will suffice.
DO SAY: I’m here for you, I’m thinking of you, I’m sending my love, I’m sorry you’re going through this, you are in my tefillos.
DO NOT SAY: At least — (you are healthy, you have other nachas, etc.), I know how you feel, it could be worse or anything bordering on advice.
Some people appreciate hearing they are strong or inspiring, while others don’t. Reserve your judgment for this.
2. Offer tangible help.
We can all feel awkward reaching out for help, so offering specific help with a definite time frame is incredibly kind. For example, instead of vaguely saying, “I’d love to send you supper!” tell your friend, “I’m sending a milchigs supper next Tuesday. Does anybody have any allergies or specific food aversions?” This phrasing allows her to graciously accept and know something is now off her (pun intended) plate. Other ideas are texting before going to the grocery store/ Target and asking for a list or sending food for Shabbos and letting them know what to expect. Offering the “I’d be happy to help if you need anything,” is not typically helpful because they aren’t going to ask.
3. Separate emotions from the tangible.
Remember that you are trying to support somebody who may be down or struggling. The details (medical, legal, financial, anything technical) are only relevant if specifically asked for advice.
4. Respect boundaries.
Respect if somebody doesn’t want to discuss their situation in person or public. Some people are more private or may have difficulty controlling their emotions. Have you ever cried unexpectedly at your kid’s school event and felt embarrassed? That’s why people may appear tightlipped when asked. Don’t give up if it’s not good timing! Try again in a different forum! We all appreciate support, especially when we’re down.
5. Don’t show up unannounced.
Those struggling may not do well with surprises.
We are all different – it’s part of the beauty of Hashem’s world – and all appreciate different things. Asking a loved one how we can be there for them is pure and kind. Some appreciate gifts, others food. Some love getting texts reminding them that somebody is thinking about them; others may find it annoying.