Yeah, I know. Not a lightweight blog post.
But, this is something I have been in the position of doing several times in the past year. And I don't know if I am doing a good job of it. But I'm taking notes here from my experience so I can work through this in my mind. Consider this a working draft for a novice like me.
1) Call a lot. My friends who are suffering sometimes reach out to me to share what is going on. But sometimes they cocoon up in the pain they are feeling. It's normal for us to go into our cave and protect our wounds. But after a time, the cave becomes part of the suffering. The dark and damp atmosphere don't actually help the wounds heal. So sometimes I am the person calling at the entrance of the cave, waving a torch, banging on a rock to remind them they aren't alone. I dont go into the cave if they dont ask me. If they dont answer my call, I just wait a while and call again. When they are ready, they will let me in or come out themselves.
2) Give a long hug. Many of my friendships are the "hello hug" variety. We hug when we see each other, we hug for good news, we hug because we are huggers. But when a friend is hurting, sometimes I hug a little longer. It is a way of saying, "I've got you" and for me, sometimes the long hug just lets loose a dam of tears that need to flow. Even with our kids running around, I have time for a long hug.
3) Say the truest thing. By saying the truest thing, I dont mean being brutally honest. If someone is facing a fatal illness, saying "You have a good chance of dying and not seeing your family again on this earth." That is honest, but it isnt kind or necessary. That kind of thing is what doctors are for. Friends are there to say the Truth, and only when it is the right time. The truth is, "Whatever happens, your kids have a lot of people that love them and are going to take good care of them."
4) Don't be an expert. Ask questions, don't give answers. Oh wow, how I am preaching to myself here. Whatever your friend is going through, they likely have googled it and talked about it with people that, you know, actually went to school to learn about what they are facing. Not just you with your, "My aunt had something like that one time in the 80's . . . ." Just listen, and ask questions and dont react with faces of shock and pity. Be there, just BE there.