Monday, October 6, 2014

A practical guide to the care and keeping of a suffering friend

I’m so glad you are here! Thank you for your desire to comfort a sorrowful friend.  I hope this list gives you some direction in this all too often awkward endeavor. 

The content of this list is:
- Learned from experience
- Meant to help, not to shame.  If you have ever uttered any of the “do not say” phrases, no worries.  Consider this a fresh start. 
- Not exhaustive
- Not just for female friends.  Typing “he/she” and “friend/family member” every time gets old.
- Not a step-by-step guide.  This is a big list, but don't let it overwhelm you.  My hope is that you learn one thing that helps you be an even more awesome friend.

Compassion/compatible/patience: from the Latin Compati – to bear, to suffer with

Watch this first, please. I did not create it and own no rights to it, but I would like to share it with you.

Great!  Okay.  Ready?  Deep breath.  Let's begin.

1. Do not attempt to offer verbal comfort that begins with any of the following:

“At least…”
“Why don’t you…?”

or ends with:

“…God’s will”
“…meant to be”

2. If it rhymes, don’t say it.

3. Do not try to make what your friend wants seem less appealing so she feels better about not having it.

4. Do not tell her horror stories of people in similar situations who are worse off.

5. Some people like inspirational stories.  Some do not.  Ask your friend whether she would like to hear such tales before telling them.

6. Try not to be offended when your friend does not feel or act like she used to.  Do not make her feel guilty for having changed. 

7. Respect your friend’s mixed or even negative emotions regarding what appear to be positive events or announcements.  Deliver news privately and sensitively.
 Ex. Weddings, engagements, pregnancies, promotions, holidays, traveling, etc.

8. It is not your responsibility to solve your friend’s problems.  Many times, there is no solution.  Do not offer advice unless you have been asked.*

9. Most people are uncomfortable just being sad with others, but sometimes, you have to embrace the awkward.  Your friend needs to know she is not alone.

 10. Tell your friend how much you care about her and what you appreciate about her.

11. Celebrate small victories.

12. Pray for your friend, and let her know you are doing so.  Better yet, pray with your friend. 

13. Continue to extend invitations to your friend, but don’t freak out or take it personally when she says no.

14. Avoid saying, “Let me know if you need anything.”  If you see an unmet need, just do it. 

15. Write her an encouraging or silly note.

16. Ask her how she feels, and be prepared for the truth.  Give her a safe place where she can be honest about her feelings, because she may be ashamed of them.

17. Let her know it is okay to feel sad and angry.  And sometimes angry, happy, sad, hopeful, distraught, and content all at the same time.

18. If you know of something that might help your friend, and she has asked for your help, tell her about it without promising results.  Give her information, but let her decide freely what to do with it.

19. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?  God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle?  #inspirationalsayingsthatmakemewanttobarfonyou

20. Listen.  Let her tell you her story.  Silence is not the enemy.  Don’t talk until she is finished.  Even then, proceed gently.

21. Acknowledge that what your friend is suffering is difficult and painful. 

22.  You cannot predict the future.  Do not try to tell her how things are going to work out.  You do not know.

23. Let her know that God is with her always, crying with her.  It might feel like God has abandoned her, but gently encourage her to give Him another chance.  He loves her like crazy and is faithful to His promises.  (What has God promised us?  Check out the Gospels and letters of the New Testament.  There, Christ speaks plainly to us. “I will sustain you…be with you until the end of the age…never leave you or forsake you…etc.”)  Read for free here.

24. In times of great sorrow, she appreciates your comfort, but she is still going to be sad afterward.  Do not resent her when your help is not enough to erase her pain.

25. Stand up when others gossip about her.  You don’t have to reveal the gory details, but let others know she’s going through something and could likely use their prayers and support.

26. No need to get poetic.  Make your words sincere, not cute or philosophical.  Your friend does not want pity.  She just wants you to be her friend.  “That sucks” is generally more helpful than “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.  You’re so strong.”

27. If you really can’t imagine what her pain must be like, do some research.  Ask your friend where you can learn more about what she is enduring.  So many people who offer “advice” have zero knowledge about the subject. 

Ex. “Why don’t you just adopt?”  Uhh, because I don’t have $25k.  “Whaaat?  It costs that much?  Oh, you should do international adoption then.”  Yeah, that costs more like $50k.  “Really?  Oh…..”

Ex. “Can’t you do IVF?”  Also no.  God has asked us not to for some very good reasons, and it literally cannot help our physical situation anyway.  It’s not a miracle fix-all for infertility. “~blank stare~”

27. Your friend does not need to “get over it” or “just not think about it.”  What she is experiencing affects every aspect of her life, and she probably has little choice in whether she thinks about it.

Ex. If she is trying to conceive, she may need to monitor her fertility symptoms 24 hours a day so she can correctly time the baby-making attempts.

Ex. If she has a health condition such as a severe food allergy, she must remain vigilant in making sure she is not exposed to dangerous foods.  Do you know there can be traces of shellfish in canned pizza sauce and artificial coloring in pickles?  She does.

28. Do not try to explain away her suffering.  Some things are awful.  That is all.

29. Avoid steering her toward spiritual practices that promise specific results.  Instead, invite her to sit quietly with God for a few minutes each day.  Encourage her to tell God how she feels (however terrible) and to be bold in asking for what she needs.  He’s a big God.  He can handle it. 

30. She may have to completely rebuild her relationships with God and other people.  Let her know it’s okay to take shaky steps whenever she is ready and that you and God aren’t going anywhere and will be beside her all the way.

31. It can be very difficult to pray at all when you feel terrible.  Let your friend know that God treasures every tiny effort she makes at spending time with Him.  She doesn’t need to try to impress God.  He only wants to be with her.

Let us run to Mary, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence. —Saint Francis de Sales

 32. Be patient.  Do not pressure her to take on more than she can handle.  Saying no is painful for her, but she has to take care of herself.  Do not expect her to recover on your schedule.  Many times, even after she begins to feel better, she will feel sad again unexpectedly.  Patience.

33. Consider giving her a small, meaningful gift.  You might learn who is the patron saint for what she is suffering and find a medal or prayer card for her.  If this isn’t quite your style, paint a picture, cover her car in sticky-notes, bake a cake, pick a vase full of dandelions, get a $1 rosary blessed for her, buy a cd from her favorite band.  The dollar amount literally does not matter. 

Ex. My friend emailed me these comics when I was feeling pretty terrible about being unable to conceive or adopt or figure out what the heck my life meant.  This little gesture meant the world to me.

~Here’s a list of major patron saints.  Note, when we pray to saints, we are not asking them to take the place of God.  We are asking them, as friends in Christ, to pray for us – just like we ask our earthly friends to do.  The people on this list are canonized saints because they are excellent examples of how to lead Christian lives, and miracles have been attributed to their intercession.

34. There are certain things people say in everyday conversation that simply should not be said.  One should respect the sensitivity of such matters and remember that they do not know what others might be suffering.  We don’t like walking around worrying about who is next going to ask us when we are getting married/having kids/stop having kids/etc.  No one needs to feel constantly on the defense about her life.  You do not know her story.  You do not know where it is going.  Do not ask when what you feel should come next is going to happen.  Gracias.

35. Sometimes, she just wants to be alone.

36.  Laughter.  ‘Tis a beautiful thing to share.

 Infertility-Specific – what not to say to or around someone who cannot conceive (or adopt)

- Just relax!  It will happen.  If you try too hard, you won’t get pregnant.
- That’s great!  Now you can have sex whenever and not worry about accidentally getting pregnant.
- I get pregnant if my husband looks at me!
- She’s a good Catholic girl.  So, I’m sure they’ll have lots of kids.
- If you’re pro life, where are all your adopted kids?
- Which one of you can’t have kids?
- Ugh. My kids are so annoying.  Are you sure you want children?
- Wow!  Everyone we know is pregnant.
- You know, if you adopt, you’ll get pregnant right away.
- You’re young.  You’ve got plenty of time.

Chronic Illness-Specific
 - You look fine.  I think you’re making this up.
- That shouldn’t hurt you.  You’re being a wimp.
- At least you don’t have something worse, like cancer.
- Can’t you just go to the doctor, get some medicine, and get better?
- I wish I could be skinny like you!
- You should get more exercise.  Then you'd feel better.
- You're too young to have all these problems.

 - (miscarriage) Don’t worry.  I’m sure you will get pregnant again soon.
- You know, the person you lost wouldn’t want you to be sad.
- Everything happens for a reason.
- That person died a long time ago.  Aren’t you over that yet?
- I guess God just needed another angel in Heaven.

Recommended Reading

Best description of depression.  Ever.

Spoon Theory and why I have to say no sometimes

How it feels to grieve the loss of someone you never got to meet

All you who hope – Catholic Infertility blog (Just read everything in her archives pre-2010)

Vatican documents regarding marriage and procreation

Comparison of success rates of NaPro Technology vs. IVF

What is NaPro Technology?  Hint: It’s wonderful, worthwhile, and respects the dignity of marriage and human life, but it’s not a fix-all either.

*Sometimes, things are more serious than we can handle.  If your friend mentions possibly harming herself or others, contact your local emergency personnel immediately.
**never been good at citing properly.  found all the images on pinterest.  Check 'em out there.


  1. Wow, this is such a beautiful, wonderful, comprehensive list! Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting so much time, effort, and prayer into this. As someone going through infertility for five years, and now trying to adopt, this really resonated with me. I am so grateful to have friends who have been amazing supports to me in this cross. God bless! :) Especially liked #1 and #2. :)

    1. Thank you! I have been thinking about it for some time. Oh, that's rough. I'm glad I could offer a little support. God bless you on your way :)