I have a an old friend currently undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. She and I had coffee months ago, when she'd just received her diagnosis and was making her plans. She is fairly young, full of energy and anger at the unfairness of a cancer diagnosis. She had blue wristbands made for supporters. Each one has "Believe" engraved on it. On the days of her chemo I wear the blue band. And every morning I send her a Facebook text: Believe, or Believing, or Believe!, or I'm a Believer, or a similar phrase. I have been doing this for the last 60 days or so. I can tell when she's feeling good because she reads my text within an hour or so. Some days it takes her 12 hours, or until the next day, and then I know she's struggling. I'm a texter, and so is she, and this communication works. I know what to do.
I have a newer friend who sat with me in the hospital for five hours the day Art had his cardiac arrest and checked in with me for a couple of weeks afterward. She doesn't text or Facebook. She calls. Last week her partner had a stroke. I knew about it when I saw her on Monday, but I didn't talk to her until I saw her again on Saturday. I thought about her every day, wondering how she and her partner were doing. But I didn't call because I didn't want to be a bother. I didn't know what to do. I told her that when I talked to her on Saturday. She said what they most needed was positive energy and prayers for her partner's full recovery. I can do that, now that I know what to do.
I have another newer friend who is helping her ailing, aging father. The father is getting a divorce from his wife of 20 years. There is a lot of conflict in the household; the father, the daughter, and the stepmother are entangled in the anger and stress that is so often present in these situations. My friend asked me if I would go to the house as a "neutral third party" on the day the stepmother came over to go through the household possessions. I'm a mediator, so I did that. In the four hours we were all together, I did a lot of listening, some coaching, and some affirming. I really was neutral. I think my friend expected me to be more of an advocate for her, but we had discussed my role and she said she wanted my neutrality. I'm pretty sure the day went much better with me than it would have without me. But it wasn't a "happily ever after" day. We were all very tired at the end. I did my best, but I don't know what the outcome will be for my friend or her family.
I wish I knew what to do every time, but I'm thinking that's unrealistic. I just need to give each situation my best shot.