Ask Ada: How Do I Help A Friend Grieve A COVID-19 Death?

Plus: what to do when your parents won't butt out of your health.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

How can I be there for my friend during social distancing?

Dear Ada,

A few months ago, I moved across the country to further my career. I just found out this morning that my closest friend’s mother passed away from the coronavirus. I’m brokenhearted for her and her family, but I’m under a stay-at-home order and I can’t travel back home to be with them all. I feel helpless. They can’t even have services or a funeral. What can I do to support her and her family?

Your friend does not expect for you to come home for this. The best thing you can do is stay put, and offer as much emotional support as you can muster via phone and video calls.

I know the physical distance between you now may feel overwhelming, but under the current circumstances, you wouldn’t be able to be there to comfort your friend even if you did still live locally.

So, take some pressure off of yourself. Your helplessness is understandable, but right now, your job is to just show up…not show up perfectly. When someone is managing an immediate loss, they need a few things: help with their day-to-day responsibilities, emotional support, and the opportunity to savor memories of their loved one.

Your helplessness is understandable, but right now, your job is to just show up…not show up perfectly.

So start with the simple stuff. You may not be close, and this pandemic may complicate things greatly, but can you order food to be delivered to her house or schedule video calls to read to her children (if she has them) so she can have a few moments to collect herself. Listen carefully to the little things she mentions. If she’s worrying about having to leave her house because she keeps forgetting to order dog food, purchase some online and choose rush shipping so it’s one less thing she has to concern herself with. Send items she enjoys that wouldn’t find it’s way on her normal shopping list like wine, macaroons, and bath bombs. 

Your friend will also be riding an emotional spectrum for a while. She’s going to move through all of the stages of grief, and your only job is to be available and hear her out. Think of yourself as a sponge. Let her cry when she’s feeling sad. Listen as she yells out of anger. Be patient if she says she needs space to be alone. Check in when she isn’t reaching out. Just be a present figure in her life, even if from afar.

Memories are all your friend has left of her mom. So help her to enjoy and embrace the ones she has now.

Since your friend can’t hold traditional services for her mom at this time, put in extra effort to rejoice in the memories you have of her mother. Did you grow up together? Talk about old memories from childhood that haven’t come up in conversations for a while. Has her mother ever given you smart advice? Did you two ever get caught by her mom doing something you weren’t supposed to? Relive these special moments of your shared history.

And if you didn’t grow up together or know your friend’s mother very well, ask questions. Let your friend explain what her childhood was like. Ask how her mother’s parenting shaped how she parents her own child. Don’t be afraid to ask your friend what she will miss most about her mom. Memories are all your friend has left of her mom. So help her to enjoy and embrace the ones she has now.

Closeup portrait young nosy woman hand to ear gesture, trying carefully intently secretly listen in on juicy gossip conversation news isolated on gray wall background. Human face expression

Nosy Mom Won’t Butt Out Of My Health

Dear Ada, 

My mother won’t stay out of my medical issues. I’m in my late twenties, so you’d think by now she’d realize I can take care of myself, but she hasn’t. She’s constantly calling me to find out if I’ve taken my medication or how I’m feeling, and I feel stifled. Yet, she’s been a huge help to me in the past, and I don’t want her to insult her by asking her to mind her own business. How do I get some independence from her – specifically about medical issues – without making things awkward between us?

Your mom is being a mom.
Sure, you’re in your late twenties and you should be able to take care of yourself, but your mother loves you and wants to be sure you’re safe and healthy. It’s hard for her to let go of the role of a “nag” just because you’ve aged. She’s taken care of you your entire life, and letting go of this role will take work on both of your parts.

Before I begin, I just want to acknowledge that you’re justified in feeling stifled by your mother. Just because she loves you and wants to ensure you’re taking care of yourself doesn’t mean it’s okay. In fact, It’s overwhelming to be on the receiving end of a micromanager, and that’s exactly how your mother is acting right now. 

But the only way to change anything is to challenge something. You need to show your mom that you’re responsible enough to manage your own life. 

The only way to change anything is to challenge something. You need to show your mom that you’re responsible enough to manage your own life. 

There’s so many ways you can go about this, and you don’t have to worry about coming across as insulting. You certainly don’t need to tell your mom to mind her own business, but you do need to start asserting your own authority if you want to gain any independence.

You mention that she calls you to find out if you’re taking your meds. Beat her to the conversation. Call her to check in. When she asks how you’re doing, casually slip, “I’m good. Just taking my meds now while we speak,” into the conversation. 

You probably do all the little things necessary, such as refilling your prescriptions or calling your doctor’s office for refills, and you do so without feeling like you need to alert the media about your actions. But you might want to start lighting alerting your mom. Again, in conversation, mention that you just got back from the pharmacy or how long you waited on hold with your doctor’s office. These little admittances act like baby steps in showing your mother that you’re capable, able, and doing a great job of taking care of yourself without even needing to address her over-involvement at all.

But, depending on your mother’s enmeshment in your life, you may find that you need to actually address your concerns directly with her. When you do talk, do it during a calm conversation. Don’t bring it up after she calls for the second time in one day with questions about your medical needs. 

Lead with a compliment, and end with a firm request. Not sure where to start? Try this on for fit:

“Mom, you’ve always done such a great job of taking care of me. I can’t tell you how much I’ve appreciated your reminders these past few years. I’m really working hard at taking more responsibility for myself, and I’d love it if you could loosen up a bit and let me prove to myself that I can manage my own meds without your reminders. Is this something we can start right away? I’d still like to chat with you daily, but I need you to help me help myself and not check in about how I’m managing my health during them.”

By showing her respect with your request, your mother will most likely return the same respect to you. She just needs to be shown that you’re capable, so she feels as if she can loosen the reins. It doesn’t matter how old you are, your mother will always worry about you. Help teach her that she doesn’t have to.

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem.