For years I have kept a manilla folder with notes, magazine clippings, and ideas for a "Thoughtfulness Guide" I wanted to create someday. (I was never really happy with that name for it, but that is what I wrote on the folder's label, for lack of a better description.) So many times over the years, I had found myself asking, "What can I do?" when a friend or family member was sick or hurting or in some form of need. I often found I didn't have the answer to that question, and a lot of times neither did the one I wanted to help. So I started looking for answers to that question in general (What can I do to help others in hard times?) and to specific situations in particular (What can I do for Stephanie after her knee surgery? How can I cheer up April after her breakup?) . . . even the hardest of situations (What in the world do I say to Luke after his mom has died? How do I comfort Gina when her parents are getting divorced?).
These questions were on my mind as early as my teenage years. After Steph's knee surgery, I visited her at home and we talked and hung out just like normal. But I remember feeling like there was probably more a person could do for a temporarily bed-ridden friend. On the other hand, when April and her boyfriend broke up, several friends and I were much more decisive--we got her out of bed the Saturday after and made her come to the gym with us to play basketball, and there she took out a lot of her frustration (ah, high school relationships!) and tore it up on the court.
With Gina, I just listened. I knew she was sad--she was bearing so much--and I was so sad for her. And I didn't know that there was much to do but listen and talk with her about it, so that's what I did.
With Luke . . . well, I still can't get over that story. I so wish I had known more back then. It was Fall of our senior year of high school and what did any of us kids know about that kind of grief, much less how to help your friend through it? The day Luke's mom died (she was young--only in her forties--and she had a stroke while on a trip), about twenty of us fled to a friend's house and sat together in shock . . . and cried. I remember Miranda's mom telling me over the phone as I sobbed, "You go on over to Kristi's house--go on and be with the others. Go right over--don't be alone." (How did she know to give that advice? It was such a good idea. I would have gone crazy trying to deal with that emotion alone.)
But in the weeks that followed, I was at a loss. I bawled through the funeral, hugged Luke, his dad, and sister at the graveside ceremony, and told Luke several times I was praying for him. But I have often thought back to that time and wished I had known more--known to talk to him about his mother and how amazing she was, known to bring her up in conversation to show she was remembered, known to tell him how sad I was too . . . known not to let his sadness or my uncertainty keep me from talking to him about it.
I have been trying to learn how to better answer the "What can I do?" question ever since . . . and what I have learned I want to keep here, in hopes that others can benefit from my experiences and also share their own. I hope you will join me!