Wednesday, July 20, 2011

#20: Friends Who Teach You to be a Better Friend

Reason to Be Happy #20:
Friends Who Teach You To Be A Better Friend

Early this summer, I experienced the first real health crisis of my life. It’s really not all that dramatic, and everything is fine, but I had two surgeries in eight days and spent nearly four weeks unable to do a whole lot for myself. I already knew I had an incredible tribe of family and friends, but I was truly humbled by some of them during this rather helpless feeling time.

They taught me a lot about how to help—and how NOT to help—someone who needs it. Because of their amazing example, I realized I’d been doing this wrong all my life. Not intentionally, of course, but I’ve always been the person who sends a card, then calls or emails with “Let me know if I can do anything,” then stays out of the way, not wanting to “bother” anyone. I meant my offers of help sincerely…but it wasn’t until the tables were turned that I realized no one was ever going to take me up on my offer. People (myself included) hate to ask for anything. Asking for help is hard. It’s awkward and makes you feel sheepish and weird.

If you really want to help someone, remember this: A real friend shows up. They don’t ask how they can help. They They perform actual, meaningful acts, both big and small, and leave you feeling so, so grateful.

Just a few examples from my experience:
—Friends who said “I’ll bring dinner the day of surgery.” Not only did they feed me, my mother, and sister, but they did all the dishes and cleanup, too!
—Friends who called and said, “We’re going to mow your lawn. Do you need it Monday or Tuesday?”
—Dear friends from a writing class I taught who came over the day before surgery with bags of movies, books, and so much wonderful food that some of it is still in my freezer
—Numerous friends who brought food (mac-n-cheese, turkey vegetable soup, carry-in from my favorite restaurants, frappuccinos) or lovingly made it for me in my own kitchen
—Friends who watered my garden (no easy task!)
—Friends who drove me to followup appointments

One amazing friend brought dinner, then cleaned my bathroom! I would never have thought of such a thing. She said it was the one most practical act someone did for her family when her father was ill and she’s never forgotten it. I sat on the hallway floor and chatted with her while she scrubbed my bathroom from top to bottom. This same friend sent this email as a followup about a week later:
I am going to drop off some cookies and magazines at your house on Friday. I will text you just so you know they are there, but you are under no obligation to speak to me. I am also available to do the following:
1. Clean your bathroom
2. Do grocery shopping
3. Do laundry and change your sheets
4. Entertain you with lame stories
5. Take you to appointments. I am off on Fridays between now and July 15th. After that, I am basically free any day/time.
6. Pick up or drop things off at the library
You must pick one of these (but you can pick all of them) or I will just default to coming over every 10 days to clean the bathroom.
I remember telling her that all of this made me want to be a better friend! Not that I want bad things to happen to people I love, but if they do, I’m going to step up to the plate in a way I didn’t understand in the past. I vow to pay it forward!

PS. A perfect gift for a reader who’s been anesthetized? People magazine. I had no idea!

PPS. Here’s a great NY Times article about what to say—and what not to say—to someone who is sick.


  1. Yes, a thousand times yes. There are people in my life who make me long to be a better person, and I work at it every day.

  2. You are blessed!!! I ALWAYS have that thought "makes me want to be a better friend..." It just goes to show that when you surround yourself with wonderful people they lift you up and make you a better person. Makes me also think about those people I need to cut out of my life...Hmmmm

  3. Lovely - and loving - ideas all. I'm saving them for the next friend in need.

    Glad you're feeling better!

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  5. Things are fine now, but thanks for the good wishes. I just wanted to pay it forward, in gratitude for all the amazing help and support I received.