My young friends wife (27) is in a coma. How do I offer support?
June 22, 2008 8:55 AM   Subscribe

My friend from childhood - who I haven't really kept up with much even though we live in the same neighborhood - woke up one morning to discover his wife of less than 3 years was unconscious. She is in a coma and it's not clear if she'll ever wake up. They have one kid. How do I offer my support?

My friend and I are both 28 and it must be terrible for him to have to deal with this. I am unsure of what I could say to him even though I feel like I should offer some support, maybe in an emotional way.

It's not like we have a regular chat so I have no reason to talk to him outside of this catastrophe. He's also a very quiet and reserved person who keeps his life to himself.

Do I just call up and say: "Hi, I'm so sorry about your wife. How are you feeling?" It sounds contrived and awkward somehow.

Do I just leave him to deal with his stuff and stay out of the way? He has a close family who are with him every step of the way.

Thanks for sharing your tips/experience.
posted by seatofmypants to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: seatofmypants, I am so sorry. How terribly sad.

If it were me I would write a heartfelt note. And then another and another just to let him know you are thinking of him. Include your email address and phone number. Let him know you are there to talk any time. I don't know if this is as personal as a phone call but it's what I would do since you don't talk to him on a regular basis.

If you have run into him recently and you were close in the past, I think a phone call would be appropriate.
posted by LoriFLA at 9:05 AM on June 22, 2008

offer background support via a card or phone conversation. "I heard about what happened, and I wanted to let you know I'm here for you. Let me know when you need some errands run, I'm right around the corner and would love to take them off your hands."
posted by agentwills at 9:06 AM on June 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

I don't think it's ever wrong to send a card or to call. What agentwillis said,
posted by meta_eli at 9:08 AM on June 22, 2008

"Hi, I'm so sorry about your wife. If there is anything at all that you need, you just call or come over, okay? I'll do anything I can."
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:09 AM on June 22, 2008

Can you cook? Or is there somewhere local you could buy a healthy "homemade" meal that could be frozen?

Food is traditional at times like this, and also helpful, since its difficult to have time to cook and/or shop.

If it were me, I'd stop by with a casserole in a freezable dish that I didn't need to have returned, with a note on the top that gave my name and contact info (phone, email) and and offer to do whatever might be needed.
posted by anastasiav at 9:09 AM on June 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Well - emotional support, I can help with advice - I am horrible at that - for me, it's better to "do something"...

Yes - what you said sounds "contrived" - but, honestly that is pretty much how these conversations start - and they are awkward. Start with that, then offer to help out - not emotionally, but ... physically.

Let's see:
- offer to babysit/look after the child if he needs you too - because you are in the same neighbourhood, it probably wouldn't be a big deal - with the added benefit you could do it at his home, so - less trauma for the child. (Dragging kids to hospitals ALL the time for visits is hard on them, they don't understand the emotions their parents are going through and of course, being kids don't have the patience for extended or frequent visits)

- offer to cook them dinner/BBQ - or hell, even drop something off - or take them out somewhere.

- offer to clean the house - or better yet now that it's summer - help with the yardwork.

Any of those things would be helpful and very appreciated - believe me, this is the sort of things we have done for friends/neighbours and while they may refuse any help entirely, it shows you care.

Good luck, and I sincerely hope everything works out - this is hard on a family - my wife had something similar happen to one of her friends husband.
posted by jkaczor at 9:12 AM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

oops - I meant - I can't help w/emotional support, but you get the idea - same as everyone else here ;-)

(God I love this place, Callahan's o' de internet...)
posted by jkaczor at 9:14 AM on June 22, 2008

Knock on his door, say you heard about it, ask him how he is, how his child is, what can you do to help?

Go see him at least twice a week, if he doesn't want you around you'll sense it pretty soon.

Good luck!
posted by gadha at 9:15 AM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mow the lawn, do some weeding, laundry, find out what he needs WRT the child -- babysitter pickup/dropoff, summer camp/karate lessons, anything that can keep the child's routine the same.

He'll have lots of people helping out in the first couple of weeks, but people need to go back to their lives/jobs/families, so especially if he "keeps his life to himself" as you say, he might end up pretty isolated if the situation goes on for a while. The day-to-day stuff is the most helpful. Once the grass gets high & the weeds take over, the whole house looks neglected.
posted by headnsouth at 9:19 AM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Really good suggestions here. While "Hi, I'm so sorry about your wife. How are you feeling?" might sound awkward to you, I don't think it will be to him. That's the most important issue in his mind right now, and hopefully he'll be having similar conversations with plenty of people, so it won't seem out of left field even if you've never been close.

A lot of times people in this situation don't know what they need or want help with, nor do they know what's appropriate to ask for even if they have something they wish somebody would do for them. Ask him what you can do, but be prepared to offer specific suggestions, too. Bringing food and babysitting are great ideas. If he's spending tons of time at the hospital, he might also appreciate a good novel or magazine to read. Depending on his personality, he might like to have you hang out with him at the hospital. He'll probably be fighting between a sense of "I can't leave, what if something happens while I'm gone?" vs. "I haven't talked to anyone except doctors for days, I could really use some company."

When my mom and I were basically living at the hospital while my dad was in a coma, I had one friend who called to talk, and she ended the conversation by asking, "Is there anything I can do for you?" I said I couldn't think of anything, so she responded, "Is it ok if I call you again tomorrow to ask again?" It meant the world to me. If I had wanted some space she would have been happy to give it, but she also wanted to make sure it was abundantly clear that she was willing to help out in any way that she could. And she did proceed to call every day while my dad was in the hospital.

If your friend really is spending a ton of time at the hospital, here are a few suggestions for a care basket:
- sugar-free chewing gum
- a travel toothbrush and toothpaste (sounds weird, but sitting around not talking for hours can really make you wish for this)
- magazines in an area of his interest
- quiet, age-appropriate toys for the kid. coloring books and crayons, perhaps?
- a throw-blanket to wrap up in (Target has nice fleecy ones for about $20)
- bottled water or soda
- a card with your name and number
posted by vytae at 9:28 AM on June 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Are you friendly with any of your other mutual friends from childhood? Maybe a group of you could take him out for a beer, just to give him something normal to do for an evening?

As far as what to say, don't even worry about that. Just say *something* and let the rest happen naturally. The fact that you are even thinking about this shows that you are a thoughtful person, and will probably be able to say the right thing at the right time. Many people would try to avoid an uncomfortable situation like this.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:41 AM on June 22, 2008

- a throw-blanket to wrap up in (Target has nice fleecy ones for about $20)

If you do decide to do a hospital care basket or even just pick up a couple things to help him out, this would be a good one. As I've learned over the course of a number of emergency room visits in the past few years (as both the patient and the friend/driver), hospitals can be freakin' freezing, and the staff doesn't necessarily have the time to/won't necessarily think to bring warm blankets by for a visitor, even one who's there for hours on end. And since it's summer, he probably won't have a coat at hand to wrap up in.
posted by limeonaire at 9:43 AM on June 22, 2008

Best answer: I'm not sure if calling once or often is good or necessary, especially if you're not close now. I had to run interference for my sister-in-law when her husband died, and the people who kept calling and insisting on talking to her were pretty annoying, especially if they weren't that friendly before. Our favorite people offered support in a non-invasive way. If you were close with them, that's one thing, but it will be tiresome and awkward for him to explain everything to you, especially if he has close family nearby.

However, you can and should do something. It would be nice if you dropped off a gift of food with a note of support and sympathy and an offer to do anything that could be helpful. Not-quickly-perishable food is good--crackers, nuts, cheese, fruit, maybe a toy for the kid if the kid is of an age to appreciate that.

Good luck.
posted by tk at 10:08 AM on June 22, 2008

While "Hi, I'm so sorry about your wife. How are you feeling?" might sound awkward to you, I don't think it will be to him. That's the most important issue in his mind right now, and hopefully he'll be having similar conversations with plenty of people, so it won't seem out of left field even if you've never been close.

I really liked what vytae said here. Remember, too, that while "hopefully he will be having similar conversations with plenty of people" there will also be plenty of people he won't talk to about this. As happens to anyone in a terribly stressful situation, there will be people he meets every day (from the grocery store cashier onward) to whom, when asked "how are you today?" he will lie. He will think he is doing it to ease himself through his day with as little stress as possible, by avoiding awkward conversations when he can, out of necessity. But this will also divide the world into "those who know" and "those who don't" and that's an isolating experience when you start added up the world in camps like that. No matter what happens to him in a day, the first thing he will think about will be this. It will be his filter, his lens. So while you may worry about being overly practical by cutting right to the chase, he'll just be glad to have someone else catch up. What's happening to him right now is the most important thing in both of your lives, and so acknowledging it as soon as possible tells him that you recognize its significance, and that itself is probably a huge gift to him.
posted by roombythelake at 10:30 AM on June 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

Nthing the call/go see him and offer solid, practical help. What your friend will need now is friends who can help out with the everyday things: cooking, cleaning, picking up the kids, walking the dog, etc. So, offer to help and then follow through on he things he asks you to do. That will be a huge help.
posted by baggers at 10:36 AM on June 22, 2008

Essentially the same thing happened to a close friend of mine from high school. The best things you can do right now are go visit, spend time at the hospital, run errands, bring food, and just be generally helpful. Emotional barriers dissipate in situations like this - don't worry about it being awkward.
If you have any good pictures of your friend, bring them to hang up in her room.
posted by Caviar at 11:17 AM on June 22, 2008

Family is always great - but friends are a really good thing to have around in any crappy situation. Sometimes it's easier to let our true feelings out with friends who aren't as involved in the situation or with whom we don't have to pretend to be strong and hopeful.

I agree with writing notes - emails, letters, cards, whatever! Keep in mind that, for someone going through a crappy time, it can be hard to reach out and ask for things. The words, "Let me know if I can help!" are usually useless since your friend is likely stressed, upset, and can't really ponder making a to-do list for other people.

A good solid hug is never a bad thing. Dropping off a meal, sending notes/cards/letters/emails or a great (light, fluffy) book to read are always good ideas. Anything that provides a temporary distraction is usually welcomed.

Offering to babysit the kid for a few hours - to distract the kid, specifically - is always good. A movie in the afternoon, some time out at a park, whatever! Or offer to drive to clubs/groups if the kid is involved in something already.

Sometimes kids get overlooked during a crisis (and feel kind of neglected and thus conflicted since it's obvious Mom needs the attention more) and it can also be hard for parents to "let go" of their emotions when they're trying to shelter a child from a lot of crappy stuff.

Offers to grocery shop, do some housework, do some laundry or any other "household help" can also be a good thing - depending on your comfort level.

The biggest advice would be to remain supportive but not invasive.
posted by VioletU at 11:31 AM on June 22, 2008

Knock on his door, say you heard about it, ask him how he is, how his child is, what can you do to help?

It's important to remember that everyone is different. If I was in your friend's situation, the LAST think I'd want is someone knocking on my door. (Though I hope I'd be gracious enough to understand the good intentions behind the knock.) I'm introverted, and in times of stress I'm even more that way than usual. Your friend my be different from me. Your friend may welcome a visit or a phone call. Think about the kind of person he is.

Here's what I'd like: a heartfelt note or email. I can deal with those sorts of communications in my own time, in my own way. I would genuinely appreciate such a gesture, especially if it contained an offer to help.
posted by grumblebee at 12:30 PM on June 22, 2008

Chiming in with the introverts / folks who get overwhelmed by people during a crisis that something that doesn't require him to respond to you immediately, just opens the door for him to reach out when he's ready, is good... a note in his mailbox, an e-mail.

The less awkward you can make it for him to ask for help/company, the better. Something like "Hey, man, I usually go grocery shopping on Tuesdays, let me know anytime if I can pick up some stuff for you". I'm bad about asking for help, and it's a lot easier when I don't feel like I'm making someone go way out of their way.

Like you said, he has a lot of family... but if they're anything like mine, they're slowly driving him insane. Some time away from them... especially time when he gets to just be distracted and doesn't have to talk about the elephant in the room for a while... might be the ticket. Invite him over for a beer and a DVD... something where if he doesn't feel like talking, he can just focus on the movie... and if he does feel like talking, you're there.
posted by Gianna at 12:49 PM on June 22, 2008

When I was in a similar situation, the best help came from people who were very specific about what they could offer - she said, groceries, dry cleaning, video store. As a result, I have called a friend and said "I'm going grocery shopping, can I pick up something for you?" If he says "No", ask "would you like me to check in next I go. And by the way, I'm close enough that you suddenly run out of something critical like coffee or your son's favorite cereal, give me a call." Also you may not be ready to take his son for play time but you can check and see if he needs to be driven or picked up. Does someone need to walk the dog? But figure out what things would be comfortable for you do - don't offer to do something that will feel like a burden - if you don't cook much, a home cooked meal is out, if you aren't used to kids, don't offer to babysit. (But both are fine if you are Ok with doing them.)

Oh, maybe offer to pick some good take-out food and bring it to the hospital for him. Hospital cafeteria food gets old fast.
posted by metahawk at 1:38 PM on June 22, 2008

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