When a personal storm impacts those we love, we naturally want to help. And if we can’t help, we at least want to offer comfort, hope, and reassurance. All too often, however, our eagerness to say the right thing or fix the problem blinds us to how our actions might be received by the person suffering. Consider the following ways to help someone you know when a struggle affects their life:
1. Sometimes, the best thing we can offer is our silent presence. Just being there can bring comfort in a way words simply can’t. If appropriate, use touch, such as a hug, a hand resting on their hand or shoulder, etc.
2. When we can’t be there, we can send notes of encouragement that can be read at the hurting person’s leisure. Resist the urge to call; people in tragic circumstances often don’t have the time, availability, energy, or emotional stamina to answer the phone.
3. Don’t ask what you can do; people in crisis may find it extraordinarily difficult to think clearly, remember things, or make decisions. Instead, offer specifics like these:
- Let me check on your pets while you’re waiting at the hospital. [One less thing to worry about.]
- Why don’t I watch the kids for you today so you can sleep this afternoon? [Crisis is exhausting.]
- How about if I call a few people to let them know what’s happening and to ask them to pray? [Repeating the details can be emotionally draining for the people involved.]
- I’m going to run to the grocery store today. What can I pick up for you?
- Let me arrange for some other people to make meals for your family over the next several weeks, maybe just three or four meals each week. I’ll collect them and leave them on your front porch so you don’t have to deal with seeing all those people if you don’t feel up to it.
- While you’re at the rehab center today, I’d like to stop over at your house and take care of any chores you need done: cleaning, taking out the trash, laundry — anything that would be helpful. What three things can I do while I’m there?
- I know Johnny and Sally still have after-school practices and lessons to get to while this is going on. Why don’t you let me handle driving them to and from their various activities?
4. If the tragedy involves your friends’ having to spend a lot of time at a hospital, rehab center, doctors’ offices, or other places, give them (or mail anonymously to them) restaurant, gas station, or quick-stop gift certificates. It can help defray expenses and make it easier for them to eat healthfully as they have opportunity during this difficult time.
5. Recognize their need for quiet, rest, and space. Don’t just “stop by” unannounced to drop something off or check on them. Don’t call everyday for updates. Don’t use this tragedy as an excuse to focus on your need to help or be involved. Rather pray regularly for them and their situation (you don’t have to announce that you’re praying). Arrange (behind the scenes) a card shower (where many people send cards or notes of encouragement to “shower” the family with love and concern without invading their privacy). Send an e-mail.
Give your friends the grace and space they need to work through the tragedy for as long as they need. There is no time-line for grief.