Ditch the flowers: What to give a friend who’s going through a tough time

When my mom got with cancer in 2012, our house turned into a florist overnight. While we appreciated the sentiment, the pungent floral fog hanging over our house was a constant reminder that all was not well. Throwing out dead, wilted bouquets that had often been forgotten was also really depressing.

That being said, it’s really difficult to know what to do or say when a friend goes through something traumatic. Flowers, chocolates and a sympathy card are what we automatically reach for, but I can guarantee a personal gift will mean so much more to her.

Melissa, one of my dearest friends, gave my mom and I each a wonderfully thoughtful gift. She gave me a gift-box filled with a dozen or so small wrapped presents. I was to open a gift if I’d had a bad day, or I needed a little “pick-me-up”.

After a particularly awful afternoon, I shut my door and, I chose a present teary-eyed. The distraction was a welcomed gift. I was delighted when I saw she had given me a pack of Chakra cards; she knew that I was into alternative healing and had battled with anxiety and insomnia.

All the gifts had been carefully chosen, which was unbelievably thoughtful, but what meant more to me than anything in that box was the thought behind it. Mel knew that it was at 3 a.m when I’d be driving back from the hospital, tired and dejected, when I’d most needed a friend. This was her way of showing me that I was never alone.

Whenever I used something from the box, it was a reminder I had someone looking out for me, supporting me, and cheering me on.

Here are a few ways you can support a friend who is going through a hard time

A Happiness box

Buy/make things that your friend loves; individually wrap them and put them in a pretty box. Whenever she feels down or has had a bad day she can choose a present and open it. While it won’t change her situation, she will love it because when she opens a gift she will think of you, it’s something positive and is a reminder that you are in her corner, rooting for her.

A few things you could include in a happiness box.

Cancer-specific gift-box ideas

Bath salts, travel size toiletries, sugar-free mints, sugar-free sour candy, hand cream, nail polish, tea, audio-books, a playlist of her favourite songs or songs for each mood, pedicure set, face masks, dry shampoo, art supplies, journal.

(Before purchasing anything, ask if there is anything she shouldn’t eat/use. If she is doing chemo, certain chemicals in creams and shampoos could be harmful.)

Face masks make great gifts because they are small, inexpensive and work really well.

Help out With Daily Chores

Sometimes the best way to help is by shouldering some of her daily responsibilities. Do a grocery run and stock her fridge with healthy, nutritious food. Help clean her apartment, drop by and take out the trash, or do a quick load of dishes. Having “normal” order amidst the chaos is seriously a great gift.

A Set of her Favorite Series

We all love binge watching our favourite TV-shows. Bring her a set of her favourite series, or movies. She will really love this if she spends a lot of time in bed.

Audio-books for the Win

It is  sometimes hard and tiring reading a regular book in hospital. If she shares a room with other people it’s also difficult to read late at night.

If you are looking for a funny audio-book, I’ve just listened to Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, and highly recommend it!

Adult colouring books are therapeutic, and help pass the time.

Support her Hobbies

This is a really simple way to bring joy into her life.  If she has a lot of time on her hands this will help fill the gaps with something she already loves doing. Again, it doesn’t have to be fancy, if she enjoys art, get her a colouring book, or a set of water-colour paints. If she loves photography, grab a few disposable cameras, and get the pictures developed when they are full.

Be a Breath of Fresh Air

Don’t let this define who she is. I don’t know what it is about humans, but I’ve noticed that when someone is ill they have this macabre need to talk about all the people they know who have died/survived the same illness. It’s depressing.

Treat her like the normal friend that she is. Talk about the things that you normally would on any other given day, don’t treat her like she’s broken or fragile.

Swap the Bouquet for a Pot-Plant 

Instead of buying something that will die in a week, get her a plant for her garden, or pot-plant for her windowsill.

It’s incredibly therapeutic having a slice of nature inside with you. Plants like lavender, and lemon Thyme are easy to maintain and give off a wonderful aroma. Alternatively, if she has a garden, you could buy her some flowers and plant them yourself. Whenever she sees it she will think of you, and having a splash of colour always lifts the spirits.

Get her her favourite series, and spend the weekend on the couch with her.
Binge watch her favourite TV-shows with her.

Make a Playlist

Put together a playlist of all her favourite songs. Make a playlist for different occasions, if she needs a little courage before getting treatment she can pop on a “go kick some ass” playlist, or if she feels overwhelmed and needs to chill out she already has the music at her fingertips. The songs will also remind her of you, and that will hopefully give her the courage or strength to carry on fighting.

No matter what you do or say, she will be grateful that you are there supporting her.


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