Presence, food, and money: supporting your friends through life changes and stressful situations
So your friend or their partner or relative has experienced a big life change or are experiencing a physical or mental illness.
Maybe they got pregnant, had a baby, had a surgery, are sick in the hospital, are having a depressive episode, just got married, moved to a new country, lost a loved one. Etc etc. Fill in the blank as you like.
And you’re asking yourself, how do I support them and show them that I love them in this time.
Over the past 2–3 years, I’ve experienced a few life changes like this. A few highlights: I had surgery, I got married, I moved to a new country, my husband had surgery, and I was admitted to the hospital a number of times.
A lot of the time, people asked me, do you need help? or Let me know if you need anything etc. The answer is that in those situations, the person almost always doesn’t know what they need. They’re stressed and tired or taking a lot of medication etc.
Reflecting on those times and on the times where my friends needed such support, in addition to thoughts and prayers, here are some things you can do to show love and support your loved ones when they’re going through a stressful period.
For easy recall and to summarise, think: Presence, food, money.
Say it again:
presence, food, money.
Show up. It’s as simple as that. If they’re in the hospital and you can visit, visit. Visit them at home.
Send a text if you’re unable to visit. Maybe because you live in a different state or city.
Try as much as possible not to call, especially if they are sick (this particular advice is heavily based on my experience.) Every time I’ve had a stressful experience like surgery, wedding planning etc, calls only made me more stressed. Because everyone is calling at the same time. I appreciated the texts (not voice notes because I’d have to make time to listen).
I stared also texting people like this:
Hi my darling. I’d call but you’re probably overwhelmed with calls at the moment. So I’m texting to check in on you and let you know you’re in my thoughts. I hope you’re recovering well/feeling better 💛.
Then I’d call maybe a week or so later.
The above works because they don’t have to use too much energy to respond. They can respond with emojis like 💛 or 👍🏾
Another thing to note, especially with illnesses and loss: if you’re visiting, try not to talk too much so you don’t say nonsense. Sometimes just being there is enough. Become comfortable with silence.
Also when you’re visiting don’t expect guest treatment (don’t expect to be fed etc). You’re there to show support not be a burden.
I assume this friend is a close enough friend that you can help them tidy up if the house is a bit messy or you can gift them a cleaning service or something.
During stressful situations (like having a baby) — particularly unexpected situations like emergency surgery) — people are mostly unable to cook and that means they have to buy food a lot which can become quite expensive.
Send food to your friends, even when they’re out of the hospital. When you go visit, go with food if you can. You can cook it yourself or you can order.
Money is, well, money. Surgeries, childbirth, depressive episodes, etc cost money. Even with health insurance. You pay for things outside of hospital costs including transportation, buying food (see above), and others. These things add up.
So here’s another way you can support your loved ones through stressful periods: send money. You’d think ₦5,000 or £10 is too small but it could go a long way for some Uber Eats or a pizza or something and that’s one less meal to think about.
So, again, say after me:
Presence, Food, Money.
Also remember to follow up. Don’t just send a text one day and then move on. Call when you say you’ll call or when they say you can call. Be consistent.
Remember that in stressful situations like this, people may not know what they need. They may be so focused on the stressful event they’re facing that they can’t think of what they need help with. They may even say they don’t want or need anything. But if they’re your friend as much as you think they are, then ignore that.