What Friends Need to Know ...

Select a topic pertaining to your friend's situation


At WhatFriendsDo, "friends" comes in all forms ~ brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins, neighbors, classmates, acquaintances, teachers, clergy, healthcare providers. So, even if the focused person on your 'team' is your relative, WhatFriendsDo will refer to that person in general terms as 'your friend.'

The importance of teamwork when a friend is going through a life-changing event cannot be emphasized enough. We all have different skills, talents, schedules and personalities. Friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates will want to help, and by having a WhatFriendsDo team, no one person has to do a lot of work, and many, many things can be done to help your friend get through a difficult situation.

Friendship isn't always 50/50
Yes, It will be OK... but it's NOT now
Don't go away
Just say NO... it's what we do
Food for Thought
The Lasagna Law
Pets are Family too
On the importance of staying close
About Calling
Thank you!
Friends are Friends

Friendship isn't always 50/50

Whatever illness, crisis, recovery or transition your friend is going through, he or she quite possibly cannot respond to your friendship right now. Just remember it's not about you. Returning phone calls, acknowledging cards or meals or other help may take more energy and time than your friend has to spare. Be patient and continue to stay in touch from your end. Your friend will be so grateful that you are not giving up, and that you are allowing the space he or she needs right now.

Learn to put aside any discomfort you may have about the situation your friend faces. Your friendship and continued presence are needed now. You don't have to know what to say, and you don't have to have answers. Just listen and be there. It's OK to ask questions, but just a smile and a wave can also mean a lot. :-)

Yes, it WILL be OK ...but right now it's NOT!

Your friend will go through many emotions through the course of his or her life-changing event. Try to leave your friend in the emotion he or she is experiencing. That emotion has a purpose; it is like a season of his or her life. It, too, will change. We humans go through extreme highs and extreme lows whether we are celebrating the birth of a precious baby, mourning the death of a dear parent, or recovering from major surgery. Try to "go with the flow" and be supportive of your friend regardless of whatever mood you happen to find him or her in when you stop by to visit. Your job is to be a good listener if your friend wants to share a story about the situation. But let your friend take the lead; you can ask a question, and if your friend obviously does not want to discuss details with you, find other conversation topics. And, just as well to refrain from saying "It will be OK." Of course it will, but right now, it's NOT.

Don't go away

The recurring theme from people going through a trauma is that friends don't know what to say, so they don't say anything. This leaves the person going through a difficult time feeling alone. Even though your friend will need and want time to BE alone, make sure your friend never FEELS alone!! Check WhatFriendsDo cheer pages for suggestions of ways to keep in touch and simple acts of kindness that will make his or her days (and yours!) brighter.

Just say NO ... it's what we do

"No." It's what we are used to saying. We are used to taking care of ourselves, and accepting offers of help is not comfortable for most of us.

Accepting help can sometimes make us feel that others consider us to be incompetent. So, when you offer to help your friend, and they decline, offer again. Be specific. Remember that saying "call if you need anything" often feels like the cliché "let's do lunch." Your friend most likely will not call. It is up to you to offer specific help. Don't push, but offer frequently.

One tactic that might be helpful is to suggest a choice. For example, "May I run some errands for you on Tuesday, or would you prefer that I bring over some stamps one afternoon and help address greeting cards?"

Food for Thought

  • Take food in recyclable containers you do not need back or label your dishes. WhatFriendsDo team for your friend may have designated one person to return dishes.
  • Remember dietary restrictions. Check WhatFriendsDo team page for likes, dislikes, allergies, and for the schedule.
  • Sign up on the Calendar for the day and time you will take a meal. The team Coordinator has indicated the days and times your friend would like meals, so please be respectful of the schedule.
  • Take the WHOLE meal (salad, vegetables, fruit, bread, dessert) not just the main course.
  • Many people will bring meals. Consider giving your friend a snack basket, junk food as well as the nutritious stuff.
  • You can still help, even if you're far away!
    • Send a restaurant gift card
    • Call ahead, pay and have a meal delivered to your friend's doorstep
    • Sign up on the team Calendar if you plan to do this, so your friend and the team Coordinator know a meal is coming

The Lasagna Law

Be sure to check your friend's WhatFriendsDo team page. You'll find a schedule of who is providing meals and what they plan to take so that four people don't show up with lasagna in the same week. Food likes, dislikes and food allergies will also be listed.

Pets are Family, too!

If your friend has a pet, you can brighten everyone's day by doing something special for the pet.

  • Take along a pet treat when you visit
  • Offer to take a dog for a walk or to a dog park for a good run
  • In cases of severe emergencies, keep in mind that Humane Societies offer emergency services for pet owners. Should this be pertinent for your friend's situation, you could get the local Humane Society information and make necessary calls

On the importance of staying close

Families who have a family member undergoing treatment for cancer or who have just lost a loved one often feel isolated. Teenagers may be afraid. Friends often leave them alone because of not knowing how to deal with them.

Don't wait for your friend to call you to get together. Send a note via email or snail mail, or make a phone call. You can just let your friend know he or she is on your mind, or you can offer to stop by for a visit.

Do not just show up. Schedule a time that will be convenient for your friend. If your friend needs to cancel, make contact again a few days later to reschedule.

Notes and cards will be very much appreciated.


Sometimes surprises are NOT a good idea. As well meaning as a major project or fund-raising event may be, check with your friend and/or friend's family before you start your plans. Check also to see if there are legal implications to whatever you may be planning (such as a fundraiser). There may be personal situations you are not aware of (and don't need to be aware of), or maybe someone else has already started to organize an activity.

Save your surprises for random acts of kindness and cheer.

If your friend has a team on WhatFriendsDo, sign up there to take a meal rather than showing up with a surprise dinner.

Drop-in visits can sometimes be untimely, and even intrusive.

Well-meaning gestures can sometimes turn out to be unwelcome.

About Calling

While phone calls are a wonderful way to keep in touch, keep in mind that the timing of your call may not be ideal.

If you reach voice mail or an answering machine:

  • Leave a cheerful message
  • Express your concern
  • Let your friend know you are thinking of him/her
  • Leave your phone number. Yes, even if you're a close friend, always leave a phone number. Since someone else may be retrieving messages and writing them down, your number will be helpful.
  • Don't be put out if you do not receive a return phone call. You should even include in your message that you do not need a return call; you are only letting them know you are thinking of them

Remember, during this life-changing event, it really IS "all about your friend." The last thing a friend in crisis needs to worry about is other people's hurt feelings.

Thank you!

Don't EXPECT thank you notes; some people will be sending them regularly, and some friends will just not be able to deal with sending notes. You've offered friendship and a thank you note is NOT required. However, if it seems helpful, offer to address envelopes for thank you notes or offer to write notes for your friend.

Do you make homemade cards? Your friend will love having some 'thank you' cards to use.

Friends are Friends

Just as your friends may be very knowledgeable, they are not always medical experts. WhatFriendsDo is not a substitute for medical advice. WhatFriendsDo is not intended to, and does not, provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content including text, graphics, images and information are for general informational purposes only. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site. The authors, editors, friends, and contributors shall have no liability, obligation or responsibility to any person or entity for any loss, damage, or adverse consequence alleged to have happened directly or indirectly as a consequence of any material provided on this website.

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