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My 17-year-old daughter has a close girlfriend whose mother is dying of cancer, with just months to live. We talk about prayer and miracles, but the day-to-day reality is that her friend calls her and cries (she lives about 30 minutes away) and so my daughter cries and then takes several hours to recover. It's impacting her sleep and her homework. How can I help her help this friend? We only know the parents to speak to; there are five older siblings but they're all out of the house and don't seem very close-knit as a family.


Dr. Tom Greenspon Replied: This is one of those awful times that we wish our children would never have to encounter, but which become profound lessons about life in the real world. The friend is blessed to have your daughter in her life, since the best thing she can have in the face of this impending catastrophic loss is a trustworthy and reliable connection to someone who loves her. If the family isn't close-knit, your daughter might suggest a grief group -- perhaps at a church or local grief center -- or talking with other trusted adults such as clergy, teachers, etc. I hope her father is also available, physically and emotionally. These are not meant to be ways of pushing the friend onto someone else, but rather simply a recognition of the fact that the burdens of grieving are more easily borne when shared. Your daughter, too, is impacted by this loss because she is undergoing the event with her friend, so she needs support and understanding as well. You can remind her that the world continues to turn and that it is important to keep up with other things in her life, even though that is understandably difficult. It sounds like there are times when she is lost in her own grieving; you can assure her that that will get better in time, and that you are proud of her for her commitment to her friend.
Posted On 2008-04-08 18:21:08
Annie Fox, M. Ed. Replied: Of course this is a very diffficult and sad time for your daughter's friend. While I totally understand your desire to protect your daughter's routine (her much-needed sleep and her homework responsibilities) I hesitate to suggest that you tell your daughter to abandon her friend at this time. Don't do that. The girl needs her friend and if there is anything your daughter can do or say to ease the pain that this girl is suffering through, then that, of course, is what she ought to do. As for your daughter needing "several hours to recover" from these phone conversations... Talk to her about what she's thinking and feeling while she's on the phone and directly afterwards. Is your daughter, perhaps, identifying too closely with her friend's situation? In other words, is your daughter putting herself in her friend's position to such a degree that your daughter is living her friend's family crisis as if it were her own? Another possibility is that your daughter is worried that the same thing might happen to you. All of these feelings of extreme empathy and worry are perfectly normal and I can also understand that without some perspective your daughter is paying too high an emotional price for her good-hearted concern. Here's my advice... acknowledge what a great friend she is being. Tell her you're so proud of how loving and kind-hearted she is with her friend. Acknowledge also that you're worried about the impact of these conversations on her health and well-being. Suggest to your daughter that her friend probably would benefit from talking to the school counselor because it's too much to expect that even the best friend in the world can help in the way this girl needs. Have your daughter offer to go with her friend to visit the counselor. One other thought... perhaps you could call your daughter's friend's parent (mom or dad) and tell them that you're aware of what's going on, and that your heart goes out to the family. Tell Mom or Dad about the phone calls. Ask them if they'd consider offering their daughter an opportunity to speak with a counselor, therapist, religious leader. Because the girl needs some emotional support and while your daughter can help, she can't help on the level that's needed here. In friendship, Annie
Posted On 2008-04-07 23:42:58
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