Coping with Illness | Friendly Wheels | Issue 11

Posted on Wednesday January 26, 2011

When a Friend is in Need: What Should You Say? What Should You Do?

Friendly Wheels, Issue 11
December 2008

By: Shelley Peterman Schwarz

alt“How are you feeling? I was afraid to call you because I didn’t know what to say,” explained my neighbor. “I wanted to help you, but I didn’t know what you needed and I didn’t want to intrude.” It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard words to that effect.

Ever since my MS diagnosis 19 years ago, friends, relatives, coworkers, and neighbors have expressed similar feelings to me. Whenever we would talk about my illness, I’d find myself consoling them, telling them that it was okay and that I understood why they hadn’t reached out to me. In fact I’d tell them, I’d probably feel the same way if I were in their position.

Here are three simple suggestions for helping when a friend is in need.

First, educate yourself. Learn about your friend’s illness. Go to the library or bookstore. Read up on the latest information on MS. Call the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and ask for an informational packet.

When I was diagnosed, I remember calling our rabbi. He offered to come over that evening to talk to my husband Dave and me. However, before coming over, our rabbi spent the afternoon in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Medical School library looking up MS. He told us he didn’t know what MS was or what he could say until after he read about the illness. His taking the time to learn about what I was going through meant the world to me.

My second suggestion is to reach out both physically and emotionally. Reaching out is hard work for both the person giving and for the person receiving.

I’m grateful that my friends and family didn’t give up on me. What are some of the things these people did? And continue to do.

Here are some other physical things my friends do for me: they come for dinner and bring the meal; sew on buttons; wrap birthday presents; water plants; write notes I dictate, drive me to appointments and they drove my kids to school. My friends have their limits, however, – they won’t do windows, defrost the freezer or wax the kitchen floor.

My friends don’t say, “Call me if you need anything.” They put themselves in my position and offer the kind of help they would like to receive if what happened to me, happened to them. You can do the same.

And there have been emotional ways my friends have reached out. They listen to me. Holding a hand and listening with your heart is more valuable than you’ll know. Someone once said that God gave us two ears and one mouth. I think that’s because we’re supposed to listen twice as much as we talk.

If you’re more comfortable sending a card or note to say I’m thinking about you that’s fine. A note or card is a wonderful expression of friendship. It’s the reaching out that’s important. If you feel guilty because you haven’t been a very good friend, stop beating yourself up about it! Believe me there is no statute of limitations on when it’s too late to reach out to a friend. Pick up that phone and make the call. You’ll be glad you did.

My third suggestion for helping a friend in need is: reach out again.alt

Your friend may not know how to accept the help or friendship you’re offering. Be patient as your friend adjusts to a new reality. And if your friend can’t accept the support you’re offering, don’t let that experience keep you from reaching out to the next person in need.

In life, change is inevitable. Growth is optional. By educating yourself about your friend’s illness and reaching out both emotionally and physically, you will show how much you care. Your loving and caring deeds will ease your friend’s burden. And the world will be a better place because of you.

About the Author:
Amigo owner Shelley Peterman Schwarz is a freelance award winning writer and author of six “Tips for Making Life Easier” books and professional speaker. Visit her highly informative Web site at or you can e-mail her at

Listen to Shelley’s new ONE HOUR, Making Life Easier Radio Program at Guests share their wisdom, strategies for living, and lessons they’ve learned on their journey, in hopes that their words will help you.

Read more Friendly Wheels articles here.

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