A few of years ago, a family friend got sick. When I found out, my automatic response was to keep my distance: I felt that I would be intruding on a deeply personal matter by injecting myself into the mix with (what I felt) nothing remotely good enough to offer. For perhaps the first time ever, I was at a loss for words. But what I learned was that acknowledging that awkwardness was more important than doing nothing at all - even if most of my text messages started with "I have no idea what to say, but I love you and I'm thinking of you."
Just this past spring, I found myself in another tough position when a friend was balancing far too much on her plate and was struggling under the weight of it all. I felt helpless and even though I repeatedly asked if there was anything I could do, she politely refused. So I changed my approach. Instead of putting the obligation on her to respond with a “yes", my husband and I spent a day corralling her favorite things. We pulled together a care package that included several artisan meals she could heat up, french macarons, a bouquet of flowers, wine and some fancy cheese. We dropped by that night to give it to her and she cried in my arms while we hugged.
I realized then that there's no right way to handle a difficult situation when it comes to those you love, but that even a little bit of effort can make a huge impact.