One of your best buddies is going through a crisis. Whether it's marital woes, a death in the family, a job loss or an ordeal with her kids, her problem is serious 鈥?and she needs you. A five-minute pep talk isn't going to cut it, so it's time to pull out all the friendship stops. Here are seven ways to show her you really care:
1. Show up. Go to the funeral, hospital or courtroom 鈥?be present when she needs you most. She may be surrounded by a sea of people, but make no mistake: Your presence means a lot. Many of those crowded around are either directly involved in the problem at hand or relying on your pal for support, but you can offer her your undivided attention and a shoulder to cry on. Karen, 32, made it through her mother's funeral partly because of the presence of a true friend. "She came early and stayed late," she says. "It was the longest day of my life, but Ellen was beside me every minute."
2. Second her emotions. Your job is to let your friend know that her feelings are justified. Shannon, a 34-year-old mother of a son with autism, is frustrated by many friends' turn-that-frown-upside-down reactions. "People ignore the situation or try to point out the upside," she says. "I love my son, but there are some days I just want to be down. The last thing I need is someone with perfect children telling me to cheer up. Why can't people just admit that I have a right to be depressed about it sometimes?" A good friend commiserates and doesn't try to talk her pal out of her negative emotions.
3. Lighten the load. Vague offers such as "Let me know if there's anything I can do..." put the ball back in your friend's court. Instead, spell out what you're willing to do. Offer to clean her house, take her kids to school or do her grocery shopping. When Durwood, age 48, found out that his colleague's son had leukemia, he responded by mowing his co-worker's lawn every week. "I didn't know him well enough to visit the hospital, but with all the things this guy has to worry about, his grass shouldn't be one of them," he says. You can't make bad stuff go away, but you can free up a person's time so that he or she can deal with the crisis.
4. Grab the reins. Take charge of the collective efforts to help your friend. It鈥檚 not pushy to set up a phone tree or hospital visitation schedule. Someone needs to make sure that your friend is covered at all times and that everyone doesn't show up at once and then disappear into the woodwork. When Sara's husband died, her friend Janet, a take-charge attorney, jumped into action. She made everyone who brought food label their Tupperware containers, and she created schedules so the meals would last. She even sent out thank-you notes.
5. Weather the storm. Let's get real: Depressed people aren鈥檛 a whole lot of fun to be around. But true friends are not fair-weather friends. You've had plenty of good times together, but life is such that some bad spells are inevitable. Don't add to a friend's plight by making her feel as if she's a burden or a loser 鈥?make an extra effort to reach out and stay connected. For 35-year-old Annie, the worst aspect of her divorce was being dropped by several buddies. "They just quit including me in their parties," she laments. "I thought we were friends, but now that I'm not part of a fun couple, they don't have time for me."
6. Don't play Pollyanna. If you haven't been there, you don't know what your pal is going through. Leave your rose-colored glasses at home, and don't shower her with anecdotes about how so-and-so dealt with the problem and eventually thrived. "If one more person reminds me that J.F.K. Jr. took the bar three times before he passed, I鈥檒l scream," laments Kristina, a 24-year-old law school graduate who flunked the bar a second time. A good friend listens and dispenses practical advice, not empty platitudes.
7. Forget perfect. Don't let the fear of doing the wrong thing keep you from being there for your friend. You don't have to create a Martha moment to show you care; store-bought food is as good as a homemade casserole, and a hug speaks volumes. I'll never forget how my friend Shannon responded to my miscarriage. When I got home from the hospital, I opened the door to find her standing there with takeout, a video for my four-year-old and a stack of magazines. When she said, "Don't worry, I'm here to feed you, not poison you. I promise it's from a restaurant," I had my first laugh in days. Who needs a domestic goddess when you鈥檝e got a friend like that?