Re: best way to help
Torib, you are indeed a queen among princesses!!! I wish every caregiver had friends like you!
There is so much you can do, but you need to walk a fine line between helping out and smothering - which is very easy to do. But if you are good friends, and it seems you must be, then I'm sure your friend will let you know if you're overdoing it. She's going through a tough emotional time and while she needs a lot of support, she also needs time to herself.
You don't mention if your friend has a husband who is also willing to help, that's why you need to be a little careful that you don't make it seem like you're getting between them.
Take care also that you don't just keep saying "let me know if there's anything you need!" That's a very over-used phrase and while most people who use it truly mean well at the time, it's rarely taken up. Caregivers have so much on their mind that they can't even think of what they need, and when they might need it, and they also feel guilty about calling someone for help because it can make them feel that they aren't coping. So try and make definite arrangements.
I'm sure with such a caring nature that you're also intuitive, so you'll KNOW what she needs and then you can make the suggestion, such as: "How would it be if I came around and did x-y-z while you're doing that?" If it's something that would be helpful for her, then she'll probably jump at it, but if she doesn't then back off, don't force it.
One thing ALL caregivers certainly need is time for themselves, but with 2 small children and now a sick child, that's going to be difficult for her. Perhaps you can suggest that you take the other children out, maybe for an afternoon on the weekend, to give Mum time to be with her sick son.
But if there ARE times when she's going to be on her own, it would be a perfect time to suggest that you both go for a massage or a pedicure. If you don't want it to appear like you're trying to cheer her up (some caregivers feel like they're being patronised in these situations) you could say "I would LOVE a massage but I don't want to go alone, how about you come along, my shout!"
No doubt she'll be spending time at hospital with her son, so perhaps you can drive her there and sit with her while he has treatment. I can't begin to tell you how emotionally draining it is to sit alone in a cold and friendless waiting room while a loved one is having treatment! Or maybe you can look after the other 2 children when she has to go to hospital, or suggest that you cook a nice meal for her and the family when she gets home because she'll certainly not be feeling like cooking.
But the very best thing you can do is be available to LISTEN. She'll be going through a lot of emotional turmoil and it's not always easy to talk to people, mostly they don't really listen. Many people are full of advice (which she doesn't need) or they get bored after 5 minutes of talking about illness and switch the topic to something else (usually themselves, sigh), so BE THERE (whether it be with her or sitting on the phone to her) when she wants to talk, rant, cry, laugh, scream - and just listen. If she gets upset, if she gets angry or tearful, don't take it personally, just be there for her, hold her hand, encourage her to get it all off her chest. Don't tell her that everything will be OK because neither you or she knows it will be, but just listen and understand.
It might not seem like much, but when I first became a caregiver I gave up trying to talk to friends after the first year because they just didn't want to know, it made them uncomfortable, so I ended up phoning on-line counselling just to have someone who would listen, ask a few questions, sympathise, acknowledge how difficult it all was, and not make judgements. I talked for an hour to a total stranger but oh it felt SO good.
Torib, you are a wonderful friend and I joyfully salute you. You'll know what she needs when the times come, and you'll know how to offer it. I'm sure she appreciates you more than you could even imagine. Much love to you.