• Other Friendship Advice

Pandemic-Related Losses: How To Show A Friend You Care 

November 8, 2020 | By | 1 Reply Continue Reading

A reader wonders how to respond to friends experiencing pandemic-related losses.

QUESTION

I have several friends right now who are going through VERY trying situations. In a few instances, I’ve sent people emails expressing my commiseration but I’m wondering what, if anything, to do next when I don’t hear back from them.

Do you think a short “How are you?” email, coming somewhat out of the blue after my earlier note, would be taken as nosy or burdensome (like, Oh now I have to respond to Jessica, again)?

I worry that texting may come off as too casual, especially if it’s someone with whom I haven’t had a “texting relationship” in the past. 

I used to presume that people would call or write when they could with news, but nobody wants to share bad updates or wallow in their situation, especially with people they’re not usually in close contact with. 

A “thinking of you” card seems too formal these days (except for deaths). But it seems weird not to let someone know that you’re thinking of them even though you really have no idea what they’re going through at the time you write.

Any thoughts?

Signed, Jessica

ANSWER

Hi Jessica,

You sound like a thoughtful and caring friend struggling with how best to help some of the people around you who are experiencing pandemic-related losses. Your note suggests that these aren’t close friends but perhaps neighbors, colleagues and other acquaintances.

You’ve hit on an important topic because so many people are experiencing a range of pandemic-related losses ranging from disruption of their daily routines and having to suspend future plans—to sudden loss of employment, looming financial insecurity, emotional distress, sickness and death. 

Now, even losses not directly related to the virus are compounded because of the inopportune timing. For example, people might not be able to visit an ill family member in a hospital or nursing home.

Your gesture to reach out by email at first sounds like a good one. Because email is a form of asynchronous communication, you aren’t putting the person on the spot to respond in the moment as might be the case with a phone call. When you’re ready to make the call, the person at the other end may not be in the right frame of mind to speak or might be preoccupied with their problem (e.g., waiting for a call from a doctor or searching online for work).

If the person doesn’t get back to you after an email, you might follow up with another email saying you are happy to talk when they are up to it to see how things are going or do whatever you can to help. You might even mention that you’re happy to talk by phone or meet up in a socially distant way if they like. 

Also give the person an out: Let them know that if they are busy or consumed with their problem, there’s no need to respond. This seems like a caring but unobtrusive way of reaching out and showing you care. 

If it is someone with whom you’ve had a texting history, you can text without asking too many questions. Instead, just tell them you are thinking of them and would be happy to talk if they’re up to it. Depending on the situation, you might check in every few days or weeks. 

Sometimes, a small gift or card sent by mail can be another expression of thoughtfulness that can bring a smile to someone during a tough time.

There’s no one right answer, for sure. How you respond to each of these friends depends on the nature of your relationship, the type of loss the person is facing and how they are experiencing it, and your own judgment on how to best reach out. Bear in mind that If you don’t hear back, it may be that the person just doesn’t have the emotional bandwidth to respond until things settle down.

That you took the time to write this note and gave the topic as much thought as you did shows you’re on the right track

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene


Previously on The Friendship Blog:


Can you offer any other suggestions of how to relate to friends experiencing pandemic-related losses?

Was there a friend who reached out to you in a meaningful way when you suffered a loss?

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Category: OTHER ADVICE

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  1. Nancy says:

    I think a ‘Thinking of you” card is totally appropriate. I saw on the news that ‘old school’ cards are back in style with the pandemic. But, I’ve never stopped sending them. If you take the time to send a card with a heartfelt, handwritten note inside just telling the person(s) that you are thinking of them, they will appreciate it. Emails and texts are so impersonal, they take less time and effort IMHO. Another thing about emails, is that once it’s read it basically disappears from the inbox and is easily forgotten.

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