It's easy to be a good friend when things are going well for your pal.
She just got a promotion? Awesome, margarita time! She's finally dating someone who doesn't suck? Let's all go out together, so we can meet him!
But, when things aren't going so great for a friend, life gets more challenging. From sick relatives to breakups to job losses, being there during a tough time is so necessary, but also a bit awkward.
You try not to be a living, breathing Hallmark cliché and as a result, sometimes, you're left completely unsure of how to act.
Here's how to be useful during the crappy times:
1. Realize there are no "right" words.
I promise, you're not the only semi-functioning adult who doesn't totally know what to say in tough situations. Just say something and it will be greatly appreciated.
If that means you say, "I have no words right now, but I wanted to tell you I love you," then that works.
If you'd rather go with, "I'm so sorry that [fill in the blank terrible thing] is happening, and I wish it weren't," then that's good, too. Just by acknowledging the situation and offering your sympathy, you're making it better.
Whatever you do, don't try to hide until the crap is over and you can resume your role as the fun friend. It's better to be there in all your awkward glory when the bad stuff is happening.
2. Understand you don't always have to have advice.
Most humans want to help people. We typically do this by giving advice. But, sometimes, there just are no words of wisdom that will improve a situation. When this happens, our brains burn and we feel uncomfortable.
Understand that, sometimes, being there to listen to someone rant/rave/sit in silence is infinitely more helpful than any watered-down, overused advice you could give.
If your friend wanted relatively unhelpful guidance, there are plenty of people who could offer that.
But, a person who will let this person ugly cry without making it uncomfortable? Now that's rare.
3. Be a person s/he'll want to call.
When someone is going through a stressful period, there are a lot of people who will say, "Let me know if I can do anything!" and kinda sorta mean it.
This will come in the form of Facebook friends a person hasn't talked to since high school and other assorted acquaintances.
Your pal won't want to take these people up on their offers because he or she barely knows them anymore.
Be the person your friend actually feels comfortable calling when he or she needs someone who will listen without judgment, regardless of whether it's particularly convenient for you in that moment.
4. Do the stuff s/he feels too overwhelmed to handle.
When you ask, "How can I help?" actually listen to the answer. For example, a stressful time makes going to the grocery store feel like an endlessly tiring task.
Let's be serious: It feels like an endlessly tiring task on a normal day.
To make life easier for your pal, go on his or her behalf, or bring your friend a meal that's easy to heat up. If he or she has to be out of work for a few days, can you pick up work documents for this friend so he or she can stay on top of things?
If your friend gives you the polite, "No thanks, I'm fine," response when you offer, think about whether this is true. There's probably an errand or two you can take care of to make your friend's life a little more manageable.
5. Use what you're good at.
This is a great time to use a skill or a hobby you have to cheer up your friend. If you're a kick-ass baker, make those cupcakes your friend always requests on his or her birthday.
If you knit cool things, make a comfy blanket he or she can turn into a nest that keeps bad stuff away.
If you're good with words, write this friend a heartfelt card to let him or her know you're there. These gestures feel way more personal than flowers. Plus, flowers smell gross when they start to die.
Finally, remember bad things can impact someone for a long time. Some people are perfect at being sympathetic for a few weeks, but then they expect the recipient of the bad stuff to be "healed" and are surprised and/or personally offended when he or she is not.
Realize it may take your friend a significant period of time to be back to his or her old self again. In fact, depending on what happened, this friend may be permanently different. Empathize with this.
If everyone else in your friend's life expects him or her to be fully functioning again after a few months, you can be the person who understands that healing can take a while.