Other Things

How to Help Your Hurting Friends

Sharing is caring!

Emotionally exhausted,
Fed Up,

That’s how I’ve been feeling and I know it pales in comparison to the broken hearts of my friends, who just lost their 5 year old son to cancer. 

During their nearly 2 year battle against leukemia I have not known what to say, what to do, or how to help.

I felt stuck.

Walking into the church sanctuary for the funeral this week I whispered, “This isn’t right. We shouldn’t be here for this.”  Going to a life celebration of a beautiful, joyful, little 5 year old should not have to happen.  Watching our friends fight this battle with him should not have been in the plan.  But it was, and the battle is over now.  Conner is no longer suffering, he is able to run and smile and play again.  He’s hanging out with Jesus.

Ever since he was diagnosed with T-Cell Lukemia I have felt paralized.  I never knew what to say, what to do, or even how to pray.  I read an article a few weeks ago that got me thinking and made me more aware of how I handle encouraging friends when they are hurting or going through a trial.

I have felt guilty.  I don’t really know why.  I guess I feel like I should have been doing more, saying more, sending cards, praying harder or just doing something!   So I thought I’d share some things that you can do (or not do!) to help a friend when they are hurting.



Please don’t say:  “everything is going to be ok”   — this one upset me the most. No one knows that everything is going to be ok.  We do not know if the sick child, grandmother or friend is going to get better. We don’t know if Joe will quickly find another job. Sometimes saying “it’s going to be ok” might be the wrong words.  I’m sure when we say this (and trust me, I’m sure I’ve said this too) our hearts are in the right place and we mean well but the truth is that everything may not be ok.

Wait to be asked for help: Don’t say”let me know if there is anything you need” Oh… I’ve said this.  It does not work.  OFFER to help.  Drop off some food (call first!) DO something.  Honestly, I did not “do something” I’m a hypocrite.  I regret it so much. I felt stuck, I didn’t even know where to start, and that’s ok too. But try to just doing something, anything!  Even if it’s a simple text messages, do SOMETHING!  Sending little reminders: we are thinking of you, that we’ve been praying, sharing a memory or encouragement.

Feel guilty – I struggled so much with feeling guilty that I was so sad.  This might sound crazy if you haven’t gone through something similar.  I felt guilty because I knew that the hurt I was feeling was so small compared with the pain, anger, and loss that our friends were facing.  Acknowledge that your pain matters.  My heart was breaking for my friend, a mom, losing her first born son.   It’s called empathy.  I couldn’t understand why God didn’t chose to heal him.  I was angry.  I still am.  Feeling this is ok.  It does not change or diminish the pain that our friends are facing.  Your pain matters too. .


What you SHOULD DO:

Be Aware:  Be sensitive to their situation.  If they ask for no visitors, respect that.  If they want to be alone, give them space.  If they do not reply, be gracious.  Everyone deals with difficult situations in a different way.  Being a support sometimes means giving space and time.

Be Real:  One of my favorite memories during Conner’s fight was when I went with 2 friends to visit Conner’s mom at the hospital.  At the end of our evening one of my friends shared that she saw bracelets for sale online that she wanted to buy. They said  ” @$#%  cancer”.  That’s how she felt.  That’s how I felt.  I would have worn that bracelet too.  You do not have to keep it together, you can cry too, you can be honest.  Everything does not have to be “Praise Jesus” and “God is Good” – Yes, Jesus is worthy of our praise and our God IS good, but if you are just saying something for the sake of saying the “right thing” please don’t.  Be real.

Listen: I’m a talker. I have a bad habit of interrupting (I’m working on this!).  I’ve been learning that there is a time to SHUT UP and listen.  Listening is often all your friend needs.  Listening is an opportunity to hear your friend heart.  They are spilling over their feeling to you because they need a friend.  They need you to just listen.

Pray: I pray in the morning, in the shower, in the car and in bed.  I pray whenever I feel like I should.  I do not have 1 hour prayer sessions.  You might, and that’s great.  I don’t.  I pray when a memory pops in my head, when a song reminds me of a person or when I’m feeling angry, sad, joyful, frustrated or a million of other emotions.  Praying is not methodical for me. Praying is our way of  having a conversation with God.  Prayer matters.

My 2 year old has been praying every single day (at every single meal) for the last year:  ” Dear Jesus…let Conner feel better, that Conner would feel better” he says this over and over.  He gets upset when we interrupt to add anything.  He loves to pray for Conner.  God hears his prayer, I know he does.  His prayer matters.  Our mumbled prayers in the shower, in our car or while we are laying in bed struggling to sleep – they all matter.

Please note these are my opinions.  Helping someone who is facing a loss, struggling through a trial, or dealing with hurt is not a science.  I’m sure we all have varying opinions on the topic, these are mine.  Please pray for Conner’s dad, mom, brother and family. They are hurting.  Please pray for my sweet friend Brooke she too is facing a loss right now.  The list unfortunately goes on and on, earthquakes, flooding, fires and the anniversary of 9/11  – so many  people are hurting right now.

Photo Credit: *USB* on flickr

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Stacy @ A Delightful Home
    September 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Excellent thoughts Donna! It is hard to know what to do or say, so these words are very helpful.

    I’m sorry for your friend and for you too. Life can be so hard.

    Saying a prayer . . .

    • Reply
      September 11, 2011 at 11:57 am

      It’s been a long journey and so hard watching our friends be so strong while hurting so much. It’s still so hard to figure out what to do or say.

  • Reply
    Sheila Gregoire
    September 10, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Hi, Donna! I so echo your points.

    I lost my son 15 years ago now, and one of the things that I so appreciate is people who REMEMBER, even years later. So another thing I’d add is to put your friend’s son birthdate and deathdate in your calendar, and every year, or every other year, send her a card, or a flower, or a coupon for a Dairy Queen blizzard, or anything. Don’t worry that you’ll remind her; she’ll be thinking of it anyway. And the thought that someone else remembers is so precious!

    Sheila from To Love, Honor and Vacuum.

    • Reply
      September 11, 2011 at 12:01 pm

      Sheila, Thank you for your comment. What a great suggestion to keep the dates on your calendar and send a card. I too would have thought that it would remind them of the loss, but you are so right, they will be thinking of it anyway, sending an encouraging letter is a wonderful idea. Thanks Sheila for stopping in.

    Leave a Reply