Your Hurting Friend Might Need You to Clean Her Toilets But She Probably Won’t Ask

Friend photo courtesy pixabay

I remember the day Carter started kindergarten. The eldest and most timid of my children, I can say with certainty his first day of school would still rank somewhere in the top 5 if he kept a Terrible-Horrible-No Good-Very Bad-Day list.

That was a long day followed by a long difficult year of adjustment. But he got through it.

I remember the day Owen realized he didn’t have super powers. It was a blow to his self-confidence when his dad broke the news that it was a remote control turning on the ceiling fan; not the super-spin motion created by Owen’s alter ego, Flash.

You can imagine his disappointment. But he got over it.

I remember the day Lewis’ buddy, William, moved away. My little guy was quite dejected. But he bounced back.

Maybe your life is kind of like that. No major life altering challenges, just little potholes in the road here and there. Aside from the occasional broken bone, bombed test or fender bender you’ve made your way through life relatively unscathed.

But what happens when someone you love receives the diagnosis they didn’t want? Or loses the job they loved? Or falls into periods of depression that leave them not wanting to get out of bed?

If you are like me, when those heartbreaking things happen to your friends, you don’t always know what to do.

When I don’t know what to do, I’m tempted do nothing.

When my friend’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer years ago, I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t do or say enough.

In hindsight I would have visited the hospital more than one measly time. I would have sent her more cards of encouragement. I would have bought her Tirimisu and told her how often my thoughts and prayers turned her way. I would have. . .

I know my friend holds nothing against me. In fact we are much closer now than we were before her family started their cancer journey. And I’m guessing thoughts of how much or how little I did to support her didn’t cross her mind as she was swimming deep in an ocean she didn’t want to be swimming in.

But regardless of her thoughts and feelings, I know my regrets.

What if it was my child? What if it was me?

Two years ago it became me.

I cherish my friends and family who weren’t paralyzed by not knowing what to do and just did things. Granted, some things were more helpful than others. And some situations were a bit on the awkward side. But I’d rather my friends do or say something awkward than nothing at all.  Often, after we make that first awkward move, the next move is easier.

The situation changes a bit when the hurting person is just an acquaintance. In the case of an acquaintance  the best move may be to just pray from afar or send a gift card for groceries. Lord knows some very well meaning acquaintances of mine unnecessarily said some stupid things (that they thought were encouraging) after my diagnosis. I’d have rather they sent me a gift card ;)Photo By Kim Harms

But my friends? I needed them. I needed them to come clean my toilets even though I was embarrassed at the state of my bathroom. I needed them show up at my door unannounced with donuts and coffee. I needed them to buy me a pillow with Isaiah 41:10 on it. I needed them to pick Lewis up for school every single day for two months. I needed them to give my kids a pink striped basketball because cancer hurt them too.

I can’t speak for all the cancer patients and the hurting people, but I can speak from my experience. And I preferred it when my friends joined me in some way rather than shrinking back out of uncertainty and discomfort.

The cool thing about true friendship is that when something isn’t working, you can be honest with each other. When your hurting friend says, “Hey can you stop that thing you’re doing cuz it’s not really helping me, and maybe do this other thing instead?” You will do it. You know you will. And you won’t be hurt or feel unappreciated. Because you love your hurting friend and you desire to be a comfort and support to her more than you desire a pat on the back. . 

 My advice to you today is, don’t let fear of doing the wrong thing stop you from doing something.

(Check out Shirley Corder’s guest post from last week on thoughts on supporting a friend or family member with cancer.)


By KimHarms

Kim Harms is an author, speaker, and part-time library assistant with two decades of freelance writing experience. She has a degree in English from Iowa State University. She and her husband Corey have three super-awesome sons and one crazy dog. A two-time breast cancer survivor, her first book, Life Reconstructed: Navigating the World of Mastectomies and Breast Reconstruction (Familius), is a guide for women walking the breast cancer road. She is currently working on her second book, a devotional for women going through breast cancer.


  1. Hi, Kim–I have been touched by reading your posts during the past hour or so. I was going through some notes this afternoon and found the phrase “Life Reconstructed – Kim Harms” jotted down from a conversation I had earlier this month with a breast cancer survivor from Frankfort, KY. (The sister of a friend of my brother-in-law from Cleveland, OH) She recommended your blog…and then I learn that I’ve just circled back to central Iowa, ISU, and Huxley. I work in Ames, had my lumpectomy at Mary Greeley on February 9, 2018, and have a dear friend who lives in Huxley.

    I read your post about “telling the boys” —through tears. Our three young ladies are all in their early thirties, so we saw one of them in person and called the other two by cellphone. They sent the most beautiful bouquet to the hospital–even though I was just there for 1/2 a day. It’s just not something you want to tell your daughters–but at least they’re not young kids anymore, like yours still are.

    Your husband has been a great sport (pretty pink paper vest pic). Al has been great–this would be pretty scary to do without a spouse. He has gone along to every appointment starting with the biopsy.

    What I kept thinking about as I was on my way to surgery–I had been to choir practice two days before, and we practiced a song with the words, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. You are the Christ, the solid rock on which I stand…”

    Thanks much! Go State! (We are both UNI grads, but all three of my sisters attended ISU.) Cheryl

    1. Cheryl,
      I just came upon a pile of messages that I somehow missed when they were sent. I apologize that I am just now getting back to you! Thanks so much for sharing your story. And how cool that you are from the Ames area 🙂 I love it here.

      Telling the kids was so very hard. You just want to protect them. But I’ve learned that they grow more when they aren’t protected from the hard things. Corey and the boys were really awesome through the whole thing.

      Maybe we can meet in real life at some point. I don’t have that opportunity with a lot of my blog readers.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *