Dear Sarah: Supporting Friends and Family
My closest friend is suffering from depression, and has been for some time. She is not comfortable seeking treatment – no therapy, no drugs. Day to day, she is able to function in her job. She is functional, but she is struggling and unhappy. Recently she has been pulling away, turning down all attempts to get together. Our relationship has been reduced to text messages from her that are getting shorter and farther apart. I don’t know how to support her when she is so clearly struggling. Should I try to talk to her honestly and tell her I’m worried about her, or should I let her be and wait this phase out? I know our friendship will be fine in the long term, but I am looking for the best way to give her the support I can, in a way that won’t make things worse.
This is a difficult situation for you. I can imagine that it’s been painful to watch your friend struggle and to feel the distance between you two grow. The most important thing that you can do right now is to continue providing your friend with the support and love that she needs. Bringing up your own worries about her will only make her feel worse, as I’m sure she is well aware that she is struggling and unhappy. She may feel guilty or embarrassed about the impact her depression is having on her friendships. Send your friend supportive text messages and remind her that you will always be there no matter what and are there for whatever she needs. If she asks for help, then you can give her suggestions and advice but for right now, you need to be patient and understanding of where she is emotionally. When she is ready, she will seek and ask for help.
Next month, my almost 13 year old and I will travel halfway across the country to help take care of my aging parents for a week. My mom is having knee replacement surgery, and we hope she’ll recover well. Knee problems comprise maybe 1% of her “issues,” which include chronic pain and increasingly worrisome forgetfulness. My dad is in decent health, but also manages challenges. I want it to be a nice visit; my folks live a long and expensive plane ride away, and I can’t make the trip often. They resist my efforts to help them get more help at home. Right now they just have someone come to clean the house every other week, but I would like to help them think through longer-term or bigger-picture solutions. I feel helpless in the face of their enormous needs, and I feel badly for sizing the situation up, so to speak, and finding it not in line with what I wish for them in their later years. I also feel guilty for not being there to help more often, and I can’t help finding my brother’s family’s efforts in this regard to be less than I think they should be. Meanwhile, I am painfully aware that I won’t have my parents in the world with me forever. One day, in the normal course of events, I will find myself missing them beyond belief. My question is that of someone navigating life in the “sandwich generation”: what’s a good way to get through the week and to manage my hopes about how helpful I can be?
How wonderful that you can go out and be supportive of your parents after your Mom’s surgery. I really feel for you – it is so difficult to live so far away. I think before you go, ask your brother how it has been for him to deal with the day to day – really listen to him – it can been easy to be critical from afar. Ask him how he thinks you can be most helpful.
It can be frustrating and difficult, but also very rewarding to help our parents at this stage in their lives. There are many resources both on-line and in the community for older adults including social workers at the hospital. Professionals and agencies can play an important role in helping your family navigate this process and offer assistance to you and your parents in developing a care plan. Having your son with you may be helpful in several ways. Maybe he could spend time with your father – go for walks, interview him about his life. Looking at pictures together can be a way to help them to tell their stories. It could be a wonderful way for your son to bond with them.
JFS is publishing a new advice column that will appear in each issue of the Jewish VOICE. Submit your questions, and receive answers and advice from one of our licensed therapists. Names and details will be altered in published letters to protect your privacy. All letters will be answered and can be viewed on our website.