And now, a killer guest entry from Maddie Greene. Maddie is a survivor of ovarian cancer and has some really, really important tips on how to elegantly and lovingly support a friend going through a serious illness. I spotted her when this amazing Reddit comment made the front page. Quick sample:
The primary lesson I learned is that friends will desert you in droves when you and your friends are young enough not to have experienced death and tragedy before. That distinction is important. Fleeing illness out of fear is how we first deal with that big mess. … Bear in mind that your girlfriend might be experiencing the dissolution of what she thought was a strong support network.
Anyway, Maddie was kind enough to write a guest entry on how we can be good when people need us most. Maddie?
Only weeks after losing a friend to leukemia, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. My friends and I staggered through this tumultuous period with frequent awkwardness and occasional grace. Learn from our errors and wield my advice to support friends undergoing serious illness or trauma!
“Let me know if you need anything” isn’t all that helpful.
Offer specific help. Not just “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” but “Can I bring you my famous baked mac and cheese on Thursday?” Propose something concrete that you know you can accomplish easily and see if it fits a need the person may not have known how to verbalize. Specificity helps — articulating needs and desires is not easy mid-trauma.
Listen, but talk too
When Tig Notaro scrapped her usual memorized comedy routine for a live, frank set about her cancer diagnosis and other recent traumas, she pointed out that many of her friends suddenly refused normal conversations, assuming she would be disinterested in daily life now that she had bigger things to worry about. She disagreed. “Just somebody, talk to me, please,” Notaro begs in her act. Don’t exclude your friend or assume they can only talk about their illness. Talk to them.
And get ready for it to get weird.