This week, I was scanning through an old magazine at my mom’s house and ran across an article giving advice on how to help a friend who has cancer. Since two of my good friends have been diagnosed with cancer in recent months, the article piqued my interest. Most of the suggestions focused on what not to say, such as questioning the expertise of the patient’s doctor, offering advice on treatment, or telling the person, “I know how you feel” unless you have been a cancer patient yourself and really do know how the other person feels. While all of these ideas were reasonable, the article could have done a better job of telling a friend what to do to help.
Earlier in the week, a friend of mine called to see how things were going with Alex and apologized for not calling sooner. She had e-mailed me several weeks ago asking about his hospitalization, and I had detailed in a reply e-mail the problems he was having with anxiety and aggression and the need to have his medications monitored closely. During our phone conversation, she explained that she hadn’t called sooner because she didn’t know what to say. However, she told me that she had been keeping us in her prayers. Of course, I understood how she felt because I wouldn’t know what to say to someone in our situation had I not lived it myself. Moreover, I was grateful that she did reach out and call to express her concerns, and I really appreciated that she was praying for us.
The old saying goes, “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” and I have found this adage to be true during the recent challenges and concerns we have had with Alex. Certainly, I knew we could count on our families to support us through this difficult time, but the outpouring of love from friends has been a welcome comfort. What has been interesting, though, has been the way that friends respond to us in different ways, offering encouragement and help. Through their examples, I can share ways for others to help families who are struggling with autism.
Several of my friends are wonderful listeners who allow me to think aloud, share my concerns, and support any of our decisions. Although my mom has been the primary shoulder I have cried upon the past few months, other friends have comforted me during teary times, as well. At other times, two of my male colleagues who are good friends have been especially helpful in empowering me to be strong, assuring me that I will be able to cope as they asked about Alex and patiently listened to my updates on his progress.
Other friends have admitted that they are hesitant to talk to me for fear they will break down and cry. I completely empathize with them because I am the same way. However, they have supported me through hugs, keeping my mind occupied by talking about other topics, and through their e-mails that say what they can’t tell me in person. Similarly, some friends have asked my mom how I’m doing and how things are going, knowing that she can give an honest assessment of the situation.
One of the most helpful gestures that family and friends have done has been to send e-mail notes. Often the notes are simply asking how we’re doing, letting us know that they’re thinking of us, and reminding us that we are in their prayers. Some have been especially good to check on us regularly through e-mail, and I appreciate this act of kindness. Since Alex has been home, I don’t have a lot of time to talk on the phone, so the e-mails are a nice way to keep in contact with friends. I usually save the e-mails so that I can read them repeatedly as a reminder that we have people who love and support us. Others have sent very sweet cards and notes of encouragement, which I save to remind me how blessed I am to have friends who genuinely care. My friend K.C., who has been recovering from surgery and serious illness while chasing after two preschoolers and getting ready to move, sends me funny cards on a regular basis that always make me laugh, which I have really appreciated. That my friends take time out of their own busy lives to let me know they’re thinking of me has truly been a blessing.
Yet another act of kindness my friends have displayed has been in their offers of help. Some have let me know if there were anything they can do for us, they would be happy to do so. I know them well enough to know that these are not just words tossed off in a sense of obligation, but are genuine in their intent. I have no doubt that if I called these friends with a request, they would immediately be on my doorstep, ready to lend a hand. Others have made specific suggestions of tasks they would be glad to do for me. For example, my friend Debbie, who has faithfully checked in regularly to see how things are going, told me she would run errands for me, do my laundry, and/or sit with Alex. I know without a doubt that her offer is sincere because that’s the kind of thoughtful person she is.
As the autism rates climb rapidly, the likelihood of knowing a family who has a child with autism increases. I hope that by sharing the acts of kindness and generosity my family and friends have shown, others will know how they, too, can help these families dealing with the challenges autism brings. Then they, like those special people God has placed in my life, can bless others with their encouraging words and thoughtful gestures.
“When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” Romans 12:13