Let’s get really diplomatic about something quick: life is weird. Some days are wonderful. Some days feel impossible, and those days can easily turn into weeks, sometimes months. When that happens, we need our community to be there to take us by the hand and bring us back to the days we can marvel at. And when a dip like this happens to our friends, we must be the ones to hold out our own hands.
Over the years, my friends and I have traveled rough terrain. Without the generosity and support of others, those difficult times would have been much harder to get through. While my heart aches when my friends’ hearts ache, I find great joy in finding ways to make them feel loved; to show them that even though I’m not going through the same thing as them, I will walk it with them, hand in hand.
It can be heartbreaking when someone you love is hurting. We think there is nothing we can do; we feel powerless to change the situation. True, we may not be able to change what they are going through, but there are many things we can do to impact the well-being of our friends when they need it most.
Here are some things I’ve done for friends who are going through a rough patch:
A basket of feel-good goods
In my small circle of friends, we have made several of these, and I have received a few myself. My twenty-three-year-old best friend is the queen of this, and I learned this skill from her. Almost always, she’ll include a cozy blanket that’s so delicious you’ll want nothing more than to wrap yourself up in a tight cocoon. It’s an immediate comfort.
Other items you might consider when putting together a feel-good basket, in addition to convenience, are flavor (a treat like chocolate or a bottle of sparkling water or other delicious beverage); pampering (single-use face masks, little hand lotions, and lip balms are affordable ways to help your pal indulge in luxury); and entertainment (a book or a game).
They don’t need to cost a lot of money and they don’t need to be packed. Just a few items together and lovingly placed in a basket (the container the items come in is often as exciting as the items to me) will brighten your friend’s day. I know.
put a card in the mail
Even if they live five minutes from you, mail has a particularly cathartic aspect compared to a text or email. I keep a generous collection of stationery at home for this reason. A handwritten love note to a friend telling him you’re thinking of him, that you’re there, that you’re listening is embarrassingly simple. I say embarrassingly because it seems like a dying action, but it’s so simple! And so rewarding for all parties. I often swipe one of these cute little cards that my friend can open. Add an element of fun as well as surprise; surprises and delights, so to speak.
a book of poetry
Tiny, digestible Rupi Kaur-style books of poetry are a thoughtful gift when a friend is going through a difficult time. Most recently, I sent a friend a book by Jennae Cecilia, whose words simmer with positivity, love, and support. Or there’s Yung Pueblo, who talks about the human condition in such a way that everyone can see themselves inside it. And when times are tough, feeling seen is a welcome feeling.
surprise coffee delivery
When the pandemic first separated my loved ones and I, my husband and I got really excited about leaving coffees at our friends’ houses. The joy on their surprised faces! It’s such a simple gesture, and yet it’s something they won’t easily forget. I speak from experience because my friends have surprised me with a coffee, and it is one of the greatest gifts. If your loved one lives far away, this won’t work. A gift card is not the same, although a little encouragement to get out of the house and enjoy a coffee could go a long way.
Foster your hobby
The pandemic has given me many occasions to practice my uplifting skills in difficult times. Last summer, there was a time when the weight of the pandemic reached a boiling point for my husband. Work was busy, and frankly, it was sucking at his soul (he’s since changed jobs). He loves to cook, but for some reason, he hadn’t spent a lot of time in the kitchen recently. As a little encouragement, my children and I gifted her a cookbook by a local Minnesota chef. I wrote him a card, telling him that he recognized the weight he was carrying. I encouraged him to get back in the kitchen, to do something he loved.
She fell deeply in love with that cookbook, learning all about the local foods and the ways to prepare them. For her birthday a couple of months later, her parents and I gave her a cooking class with the author of the cookbook. Every Tuesday night for ten weeks, she participated in an online class, taking notes and trying new ways to prepare simple dishes. In a way, the cookbook brought it back to us. More than the book, more than the meals he learned to prepare, I think it was the act of buying the cookbook, the handwritten card encouraging him to get back in the kitchen, the love we put into it all.
If the person you love is not a great chef, you can push them in the direction of any of their hobbies. Knitting, pottery, running, whatever they like to do, calmly encourage them to take it up again. They may resist at first. In fact, I think resistance is quite likely. But if you can push them delicately enough, it will really benefit them.
Life is a collection of moments and interactions, some beautiful, some exciting. It’s brief, strange, and unpredictable, but one thing we know about it is that we’re meant to live together.
A night out (or in) together
Of all the ideas to help a friend, this is my favorite and possibly the most important. Make a night about your friend. Design a night where your friend can come as himself and talk about how he feels, or No talk about what you feel, but be yourself, without expectations. My suggestion is to pick a night in collaboration with your friend so it fits into his schedule and doesn’t surprise him (you have to be in the right mindset for a night just for you). Then you take care of the rest. Choose the location, which could just be a house, invite a couple of your close friends and design a night to show them that they matter; that you care about them; that they deserve a night entirely dedicated to them.
Going out to a restaurant or a show, or even to someone’s house, may not always be the best option. If that’s the case, a night together over Zoom will be a close second. Think about baby showers or birthday celebrations you have attended in recent years. It could be like this, an event just for that person, and not because they are going to have a baby or turn forty. Being supportive of your loved ones is, in my experience, the best way to help them when they are going through a rough patch.
At the risk of sounding trite, each of these ideas is more about thinking than anything else. While a basket full of handpicked produce is wonderful, a heartfelt handwritten card can do the same job for a friend going through something difficult. It is simply your presence and your willingness to do something. without asking them what you can do for them. This part is important: when you ask your friend what he needs, or tell him to tell you how you can help him, you assign responsibility to him. them. They don’t need that; what they need is a little extra love and a few small gestures to remind them how important they are to you.
It has to be said that if the rough patch your loved one is going through is deep, dark and highly problematic, they may need professional help, which I cannot speak to. Therapy is a great option (I’ve been on a bi-weekly cadence for quite some time now). I will also be dropping the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website here, with a phone number of 1-800-273-8255.
Life is a collection of moments and interactions, some beautiful, some exciting. It’s brief, strange, and unpredictable, but one thing we know about it is that we’re meant to live together. And that means it’s up to us to intervene when we see someone we love going through a rough patch.
The responsibility is truly on us.
Kolina Cicero is in love with stories: reading them, writing them, getting lost in them. Other things she loves are yoga, traveling, and taking cooking, Italian, and writing classes. The first book of hers for children of hers, Rosie and the hobby farmIt was published in July 2020.