I adopted the term All-Weather Friend in 2008 after being stranded for ten hours in an airport. I was stranded without my computer, without a book, without my phone.

I had been planning to start an informational series about helping friends through hard times—If you've read my story, you can understand why—but I wasn’t sure what to call it. So I sat in a cramped vinyl chair at the Delta gate and began to brainstorm, the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, everything I could think of about friendship. Eventually I wrote “fair-weather friend” and then, almost reflexively, “all-weather friend.”

All-Weather Friend, I thought. This fits. This makes sense: the friend who’s there for you through rain and storm. The friend who wants to help, really help, when life turns into a mammoth catastrophe—the friend who will take the time to learn something about what you’re going through and what you most need.

Several years ago China and Pakistan began using "all-weather friend" to describe ideal diplomatic relations. I'm surprised these countries settled on a decidedly non-Asian wordplay to describe the framework upon which global stability rests, but I’m sure they arrived at the idea in a more calculated way than I did. I just arrived at it first, it appears, and for a similar purpose: to convey the importance of friends who can be counted on when times are hard.

The mission of the All-Weather Friend is to help people be supportive when a friend faces a serious loss, illness or misfortune. I’ve dealt with unusual hardships, but I don’t instinctively know how to react to someone in a situation I’ve never experienced. I’m usually better at thinking of what not to say than I am at thinking of what I should say. Some needs are easy to spot: dinner, rides to medical appointments, errands, an evening out. But The All-Weather Friend is meant to provide the kind of understanding that enables meaningful, informed compassion. It's like learning the language before visiting a friend marooned a foreign country, where she feels totally alone.

When you're in the midst of a terrible circumstance, you don't have the energy to explain yourself, but you need at least a few people who can go beyond generic words of sympathy and can accept, while continuing to believe in your strength and capability, whatever mishmash of emotion you're putting out. You need friends with whom you do not have to pretend.

The All-Weather Friend has gotten off to a rough start with a few long setbacks, not unlike that trip I took a while back. If you would like to contribute your ideas and experiences, on any topic you think needs All-Weather Friends, please contact us (see “Who We Are”) or use the form you'll find on "Share" (top navigation bar). We are looking for people who can moderate All-Weather Friend pages, which we’ll be adding as they're developed. In the meantime, I’ll continue to post on relationships, Alzheimer’s and brain health and to assemble resource lists on upcoming topics.