Emotional and practical help for a friend whose brother is dying

Carolyn Hax
Columnist January 27, 2013

Adapted from recent online discussions.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

A dear friend just found out her brother is dying from cancer. The friend and brother are young, so this is quite a horrible surprise. The friend lives in my city. The brother is long-distance. I don’t know the brother. Any ideas on how I can be of the most use to my friend as she tries to support her brother and cope with his diagnosis herself?

Helping a Friend

Oh, so sad. Maybe the best thing you can do is expect and accept that she will be erratic during this time — her feelings and moods will be jagged, her ability to be your friend will be all over the place, she will overreact to X and underreact to Y, etc. If you can be a patient, soft place for her, then you will be of enormous value.


Another great thing to do is just call. If you normally talk every day, then just keep up your normal pace; you’d be surprised at how many people grow awkward and just drift away. If you normally talk once a week, call twice a week. Kick monthly up to weekly, etc. There is a bottomless supply of comfort in the knowledge that someone gives a [ ].

On a more practical note, you can do things like watch her home when she travels to see him; keep an eye on ticket prices to help her find times to go; pick up a few chores of hers that will lighten her load, etc. As grieving people report so often, it’s more helpful when people offer tangible things to which they can respond “yes” or “no,” vs. coming up with an answer to an open-ended, “If there’s anything I can do . . . .”

Hi, Carolyn:

What’s your definition of a “soul mate”? I think I’ve found (one of) mine — a friend of a friend. We’ve started hanging out and he just “gets me.” I have no desire to jump into a relationship with him right now, though he’d love nothing more, but we both agree we’re each others’ soul mates. I don’t think soul mates are necessarily romantic interests . . . in fact, I would say that romance with one might prove catastrophic. He disagrees. What do you think?

M.

I have no idea what a soul mate is to you, which is the only definition that matters.

I do have a pretty good idea of what a red flag looks like, though, and your short question throws two: He’s pushing for a faster commitment than you feel comfortable giving, and he’s dismissing at least one of your arguments against an immediate declaration of happiness ever after.

It could be he’s just smitten and goofy, but please do be careful, and make sure he treats your need to pace yourself with complete respect — even if his hyperbole gets a little out of hand. Otherwise he’s not looking out for you, he’s looking out for himself.

Emotionally healthy people are the ones who can show respect for both parties in a transaction at all times, whether you’re just two strangers merging your cars onto a highway or a couple contemplating a life together. You both look out for both of you or this won’t end well.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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