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flash74686's avatar

How to support my friend as she's losing her mother?

Asked by flash74686 (428 points ) February 10th, 2012

In tenth grade, my one of my best friend’s mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. It’s not something we often talked about, because she liked to put on a brave face and push it out of her mind.

Now, after two years of fighting, I’ve learned that they’ve called in hospice, who have determined that she has about a month left to live. As I am only eighteen years old and this is my first experience of this sort, I don’t know what I can do to be there for my friend.

She texted some of her old friends who she’s since grown apart from to tell them to come visit her mother (her mother was a close friend to all of us; she was just that sort of person) because she only has a month left. She never officially told me about it; I heard from her little sister (whom I’m also friends with) and I’m not sure if she knows I know. I don’t know if she wants me to know.

Today, I brought it up in a round-about way, also so she wouldn’t guess that I knew about the month estimate (“Your ex-best friend told me she wanted to visit your mom and asked me to come along so she wouldn’t feel awkward.”) and I figured that would give her an opportunity to talk about it if she wanted. She promptly changed the subject to the movie she watched in German that day. I replied in kind, with an anecdote about a movie I was watching in another class, taking the change in topic as a sign that she didn’t want to talk about her mom, and managed to make her laugh.

I feel bad. On one hand, I wish she had told me about her mom, especially since she told people she wasn’t even friends with anymore, but on the other hand, I can understand how she wouldn’t want to talk about it, and then I feel bad for wishing she’d told me. I want her to feel like she can come to me if she wants to, but I don’t know how I can tell her that without accidentally saying something wrong.

I’ve never had the experience of a close friend losing a loved one, especially one so close to them, so I’m totally at a loss of what to do. Should I invite her to hang out to take her mind off things? Should I give her some space, so she can spend as much time with her mom as she can in this month? Or should I just wait to take my cue from her, like before?

I want to be supportive! I just don’t know how. Any advice-any at all- would be greatly appreciated.

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14 Answers

YoBob's avatar

I lost my mother to lymphatic cancer.

As one who has suffered such a loss, I can only say that there is nothing to say. There is no magic words nor actions that will make everything OK. It is, however, important that your friend know that you are a friend and are there.

That’s it, its as simple (and as impossibly difficult) as that.

Judi's avatar

Talking about it in public can be tough. She probably doesn’t want to start crying.
When my mom was dying, one of the greatest things were the warm letters she received. She said, “it’s like getting to read your own sympathy cards!”
Sending her mom a letter, telling her about how she has influenced your life would be a wonderful way to support your friend, especially if she doesn’t seem to want to talk to you about it.
Grant her lots of grace. The last thing your friend needs is to worry about whether or not she has offended someone.

marinelife's avatar

Ask her if there is anything you can do. Suggest things like making dinner for the family one night, running errands.

wilma's avatar

All great answers there ^ above me.
I would just be available for anything she might need and tell her so. Of course you don’t want to be a pest, but you seem very intuitive and sensitive to her wishes so I don’t think that you would be.
I think the letter to her mom and perhaps to her as well is a great idea. Tell her in a letter that you want to help in any way that you can, but don’t want to make her uncomfortable.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Text supportive, kind messages as often as you can. A simple “I’m thinking of you” really does mean a lot when you go through something as life altering as a death of a parent.

If you can, offer to bring food. It’s easy to forget to eat when caring for a dying loved one.

Offer to sit with her and just be.

Judi's avatar

@SpatzieLover , I would add, bring HEALTHY food. I gained 15 lbs in the 6 weeks I cared for my mom. People were bringing, “comfort food” which resulted in mindless eating and it took me a year after she died to get the weight off. Fresh fruit and vegie trays are great.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@Judi I agree. When grieving we tend to desire a Serotonin release (chocolates & carbs) so those should be kept away as much as possible.

Buttonstc's avatar

As long as you never say something along the lines of “I know how you feel” or something like “it must be so…...(whatever the guess is)”

Its perfectly fine to acknowledge that you have absolutely no.idea what she is going through or feeling because that is the truth and its OK to state that simply. Truth resonates where all else fails.

Also remember to let her know that you’re willing to be there for her in any way needed SIX MONTHS LATER.

Everybody will be there for here in the beginning. But if her way of coping is to put on a brave face and change the subject, most will tire of trying to penetrate her defense mechanism and gradually give up and fade into the background.

What shes now doing is called repression (sweeping her feelings under the rug and refusing to look at them) thats all she knows to do for now. The sheer amount of energy required to maintain that repression usually begins to fade over time and everything catches up overwhelmingly.

Hopefully the folks with hospice may also try to do a little educating on the subject. They are trained to also be there for family members as well as the dying patient. They don’t push but their style is simple yet direct. They deal with the art of dying everyday. This is their job and most of them are expert at it.

Don’t be insulted that she doesn’t immediately lean on you. Don’t take it personally because shes just trying to cope while being overwhelmed.

If you really want to help her the most be there six months later. Be there a year or two later when others have tired of the effort.

Following my mother’s suicide, (yes, this situation COULD be worse. Be thankful it isn’t) the only good thing was that I discovered who my true friends

Buttonstc's avatar

I discovered who my true friends really were.

They were the ones who were still there a year later and refused to give up.

(Sorry for the break. This tab cant scroll in text fields)

Pandora's avatar

I was about the same age as your friend when I lost my dad. I realized later that I did the same thing to my best friend. I think I did it because I needed a life that was seperate from my painful moments. My friend was the person I escaped to forget my pain and feel normal. Her family was my haven. I felt if they were closely involve in the hell I was feeling that I wouldn’t ever have a moment to feel normal again.
It kind of backfired. We lost touch because I started to feel she didn’t understand what I felt. But then I didn’t really give her a chance.
Best you can do is explain you understand her wanting to avoid the pain but as a best friend you are already involved and feel sadness as well and need to talk to her about it. Tell her it isn’t pity. Which was another thing I didn’t want from her. Tell your friend you wish to say goodbye to her mom as well since she was an important person in your life as well. Tell her you simply want her mom to know what a great person she has been and to know that you intend to watch over both of her daughters and help them through one day at a time.
Don’t be surprise if nothing you say seems to help. Your friend may even lash out at you. Its not you. She’s going to need time to get over the hurt and anger. Just let her know that you will always be close by for when she decides she needs you.
Do check in with her. Don’t let life and your own anger get in the way. It really takes time to get your head on straight after lossing a parent. Don’t be afraid to get in her face if she ever looks like she’s about to do something stupid and remind her that no parent ever wants their child to be unhappy to the point of doing something foolish. Remind her the best way to honor her mother is to live life the right way and appreciate life.
Good luck. I know I was horrible to my best friend. I needed to get my fustrations out on someone and for a while I was angry at her for having such a normal life.

Kayak8's avatar

I lost my Dad when I was 18 and, as folks above have indicated there is very little you can say that will help (and a lot of things that are awkward, like “I know how you feel” or “I am so sorry.”) What helped me the most was folks who made themselves available to me—they let me decide what I wanted to talk about. I loved the suggestion of writing her Mom a note if you have some specific things you can say regarding how much you have appreciated the Mom.

Invite her to a movie or some other activity (she may say “no” and that’s ok). The challenge ahead will be the funeral (plan to show up), Mother’s Day and all the other holidays your friend will experience for the first time without her Mom. Take this time to talk to your OWN Mom and let her know how this all making you feel—she will likely be a great support to allow you to support your friend.

As someone who has worked in the industry that is “death and dying in America” for over 30 years, I would offer that a handwritten note on major holidays are welcome. Most friends remember to be around right after the death, but after that is when support is most needed. Plan to be there for your friend about 2 weeks after her Mom dies. That is about when the numbness wears off and you feel so unbelievably alone!

flash74686's avatar

Thank you so much to everyone who answered. Your responses were very helpful and I’ll keep them in mind through the coming months.

I don’t know if any of you will see this, but my friend’s mom finally passed away today. My friend texted me “You will be the messenger. I don’t want anyone to ask me about anything,” so I plan on giving her a little bit of space for the time being, but writing a long card telling her how I care, how I’ll be there for her if she needs me, etc.

I took your advice about the card for her mother, and unfortunately, when I went to give it to her, she was unresponsive and drifting in and out of consciousness. I read it to her, but I don’t know if she heard it. The family seemed to appreciate it, though, so I’d like to thank you for the wonderful idea.

In a week or two, I plan on bringing a fruit tray (also like you suggested), but I’m going to wait because I remember when my grandfather died, we got countless casseroles for the first two weeks.

I’m going to try my best to take all your advice to heart and be the kind of friend that my friend deserves, not just now, but for as long as she needs me. I truly appreciate all of you taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences. Thank you so much.

wilma's avatar

@flash74686 Thank you for letting us know.
I’m sorry for your loss.
You sound like the kind of friend that I would want to have for my own.

rojo's avatar

I cannot over-emphasize what @Buttonstc have said about being there both during this time and afterward.

I would only add that it would be extremely helpful if you do the followup contacting.

Sometimes a person during the grieving process gets caught up and ends up suffering alone not knowing how to reach out to others. Most people will be grateful for the company and the chance to express their grief and frustrations with others.

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