Oh, thank goodness. I am starving, but mostly I can never figure out something to tell people that I need, even if I need it. But really, bring me anything. Chocolate. A potted plant. A set of weird erasers. I remember the first gift I got that wasn't about cancer, and I was so happy I cried. Send me funny emails filled with YouTube clips to watch during chemotherapy. Do something that suits your talents. But most important, bring me presents!

2. "You are a beautiful person."
Unless you are used to speaking in a creepy windowless-van kind of voice, comments like these go a long way. Tell your friend something about his or her life that you admire without making it feel like a eulogy.

3. "I am so grateful to hear about how you're doing. Just know that I'm on your team."
You mean I don't have to give you an update? You asked someone else for all the gory details? Whew. Great! Now, I get to feel like you are both informed and concerned. So, don't gild the lily. What you have said is amazing, so don't screw it up now by being a nosy Nellie. Ask a question about any other aspect of my life.

4. "Can I give you a hug?"
Some of my best moments with people have come with a hug or a hand on the arm. People who are suffering often—not always—feel isolated and want to be touched. Hospitals and big institutions in general tend to treat people like cyborgs or throwaways. So, ask whether your friend feels up for a hug and give her some sugar.

5. "Oh, my friend, that sounds so hard."
Perhaps the weirdest thing about having something awful happen is the fact that no one wants to hear about it. People tend to want to hear the summary, but they don't usually want to hear it from you. And that it was awful. So, simmer down and let your friend talk for a bit. Be willing to stare down the ugliness and sadness. Life is absurdly hard, and pretending it isn't is exhausting.

6. *****Silence*****
The truth is that no one knows what to say. It's awkward. Pain is awkward. Tragedy is awkward. People's weird, suffering bodies are awkward. But take the advice of one man who wrote to me with his policy: Show up and shut up.