Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Four of us have been friends for about twenty years. We’ve seen one
another through divorce, chemo, bankruptcy, job changes, and house
buying, selling, and remodeling. Along the way there have been any
number of misunderstandings or arguments, but like the four
musketeers we have stuck together through thick and thin. Now one of
our number (I’ll call her Sarah) seems to be falling under the weight or
collapsing systems in her life. Her marriage has been in trouble for a
while and one of us is pretty certain that her husband is having an
affair. They have gone bankrupt once and now she is unemployed
after complaining for years about how much they struggle even on two
incomes. We all spent today at an arts festival. Three of us spent no
more than a food-cart lunch, but (you guessed it) Sarah donated
almost $100 to the local economy. None of us said anything but you
could feel the silent sound waves. Do we just mind our own business
or should one or all of us step up and tell her what we are seeing: a
friend in a tailspin who needs help?


Dear Concerned:

You should most definitely not all turn on her as a group. If you do,
you will see only defensiveness and withdrawal. Yes, clearly your
friend is hurting and struggling. Retail therapy of $100 at an arts
festival is not enough cause for alarm that you need to stage an
intervention. But context matters, and if she is clearly in distress you
are obligated as her friends to pay attention and not stay silent.


Usually in a friend group there are dyads that are closer than other
combos. The one who is closest to Sarah should take point on this,
scheduling lunch or coffee at her earliest convenience. I’d recommend
doing this at home as opposed to in public. Without poking her sore
places too hard, encourage her to get emotional. Crying is far better
for healing than retail therapy. Once she has unburdened the top layer
of pain, help her develop a strategy for coping: counseling for her;
marriage counseling for them; help finding work; financial counseling;
and perhaps a one-time consult with a divorce lawyer so she knows
where she stands. Secure assurances from the other two friends that
they will play tag team in a support system for her until she is through
this hard spot. And then help her rebuild her life in whatever direction
it goes.