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Don't say "If you need anything, let me know."

I overheard someone say this to a friend the other day and I wanted to slap the phone out of her hand and say, "No, don't say that." I'm glad I didn't. I am sure the message would have gotten lost in my violent action.

So I thought I'd just repost this. Please, please, please, if you NEVER visit this blog again, remember this one thing!

I know, you’ve said it. I’ve said it, too.

But the truth is, this is the least helpful thing you can say, EVER, even if you really do mean “anything”!

Saying “anything” is confusing for your friend with cancer. She knows you don’t really mean anything, even though that’s what you said. Unless she is your bestest, read-each-other’s-mind-for-the-past-twenty-nine-years friend, “anything” is too big for her to wrap her head around and leaves your friend having to guess what you meant.

Did you mean you would . . .. . .

Scrub her toilets once a week?...

Wipe copious green snot from her sick toddler’s nose?. . .

Read to her dying mother?. . .

Or run one quick errand?What, exactly, is “anything” to you?

The reality is, your friend is dealing with a life-altering event, and if she is going to take you up on “anything,” she needs to get past three obstacles.

Obstacle #1. She has very little idea what she needs. A crisis overwhelms people. That’s why we call it a crisis. She is probably confused and scared. Unless she’s been in this situation before, this is new territory and she probably doesn’t know what she needs.

Obstacle #2. Let’s say she has figured out what she needs. Now she has to figure out who to call. You are not the only one who said to call them if she needed “anything.” She can’t remember who offered. She may have to revert to looking through her contacts, trying to remember which ones offered “anything.” She will be guessing whether what she has in mind fits the “anything” the person meant when they offered.

Obstacle #3. Asking for and accepting help are way harder than offering it. She has to be willing to admit that she needs help (not as easy as you might think) and then to risk getting turned down when she asks for it. Needing help is not easy to handle, no matter what the crisis.

So there’s your friend who can’t figure out what she needs, who to ask, or how to muster up the courage to ask. There you are, wanting to help but waiting for instructions. It’s kinda’ like oil and water.

The reality is ... you’re going to have to make the first move.

You’re going to have to be specific with the kind of help you offer, and you’re going to have to offer more than once.Your friend in crisis may look and sound the same, but the stress of her situation means that she’s missing a few cards from the deck. You can help her by being specific and persistent in your offer. You can support her in many powerful ways. Saying “If you need anything, let me know” is not one of them.

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