Advice on working around the elephant in the house
Q: My housemate and dear friend just got very bad news about his mother — cancer returning, this time advanced.
I've been following his lead in terms of bringing it up, etc. What, in your own experience, was most helpful? I don't want to ignore it or make it dominate our conversation, and don't want to make a "sympathy face" all the time.
A: What a good friend your housemate has.
You can be really helpful by just absorbing some day-to-day hassles. Cover some of his chores, grocery shop for two versus one, add an errand of his to your list. You can also offer distractions, since those can be just as useful as sympathy, depending on his need. Get used to the phrasing, "I'm going to [blank]; want to come along/can I get you anything?" Mix it up, too — a movie, a bike ride or walk, an errand.
My own bad-news experience, at least, was that sometimes I needed to circulate, and sometimes I needed to go fetal and screen calls, and the people I appreciated most are the ones who offered concrete things and didn't take "no" personally.
I had two friends who called frequently who had never called much before and who rarely call since. I will never forget them — they just got it, that "normal" rules weren't in force.