When a friend’s child is sick, you are afraid of saying the wrong thing.
You don’t know if it’s better to say something in the hopes that they find it a little comforting, or if it’s better to give them their space. If you do say something, what do they want to hear? What do they absolutely not want to hear? They are more miserable than they’ve ever been in their lives — how could you stand yourself if you made them feel even a little bit worse?
You don’t know if they want to talk. Would they appreciate if you asked for an update, or would it be unbearable to speak the words out loud one more time? Are they grateful for people checking in to see how their child is doing, or are they exhausted at the thought of repeating the update yet again?
You want to help, but you don’t know how. You want to offer to watch their other children, but don’t want to overstep. You are unsure about the lines between “acquaintance,” “friend” and “good friend.” You want to bring over gifts and balloons, but what if they are trying to keep their home life relatively normal? Showing up at the door with an armful of goodies is not normal.
You want to mail a card that tells them you’re thinking about them, but mail takes a couple of days — what if something changes while it’s in transit, and your message upsets them further? You want to slip it directly in their mailbox, but what if they see you and feel compelled to open the door and it’s not a good time? You don’t want to intrude.
You want to make them something to eat, because food is the universal language of Something In Your Life is Sad and/or Difficult Right Now. Should you bring a meal for the freezer that eliminates the need to cook dinner one night, or is their freezer jammed? Or should you organize a meal train, so different people are assigned to bring meals on specific days at the same time? Are you hassling them if you ask about allergies and preferences, or would they appreciate the chance to avoid yet another Unidentified Creamy Mushroom Chicken Something Casserole?