Friday, January 25, 2013

How to offer practical help to a friend in crisis

In my previous post, I talked about how to make the best use of your time and energy while waiting with a loved one during medical visits and procedures.

In this post I want to talk about how to provide practical help to friends and family members dealing with any kind of crisis. Maybe they are having surgery, or their child is in the hospital. Maybe they've just lost a loved one. Or their job. It's so hard to know what to do when someone you love is hurting.

Having been on the giving and receiving end of practical help, here are my thoughts on how to best provide practical help, comfort, and support when a friend or family member is going through a difficult time.
  • Don't ask, "How can I help?" By the same token, don't say, "Call me if you need anything." Because guess what? We won't. We're pretty overwhelmed. Half the time we don't know what we need until we're staring into an empty refrigerator or an overwhelming pile of laundry. Then trying to remember who offered to help, if they really meant it, and would they really be willing to tackle your sink of dirty dishes... well that's more than our emotionally over-taxed brains can handle.
  • Instead offer specific help that you are willing to do. Offer to pick up their laundry and do it with yours. Or do it at their house if you have the time. Offer to clean bathrooms, mop floors, run the dishwasher, cook up several meals for the freezer, run to the grocery store, pick up kids from school, shovel their driveway and walks, mow the lawn.
  • Realize that many times when you offer to help we'll say we're okay or that we're managing because it's hard to admit we need help, let alone ask for it. Feel free to offer specific help several times. One of the best things my friends did for me (twice!) was to make several weeks' worth of meals in single portions and stocked my freezer with them. A group got together to do it so they could socialize and have fun while they were doing a huge favor for me!
  • Think about all the things you have to do in your day and how each of them would be impacted by a family crisis. What things would you need help with? Go offer to do that for your friend. It's amazing doing something simple like running the dishwasher, wiping down the bathrooms, or throwing in a load of wash can lighten the load of someone who is already emotionally drained when they come home.
  • Call ahead before visiting. Patients either at home or in the hospital don't always feel up to visitors. They don't look their best (which can be embarrassing to some people), they are in pain, tired, or scheduled for tests or therapies. Make sure your visit is a blessing, not a burden.
  • When you do visit, be ready to leave if it's not a good time. Don't expect to be entertained or for the patient to carry on a long conversation. Some people will love the company and be happy for the distraction. Others would prefer a short visit. Be sensitive to that.
  • Do send cards, notes, Facebook messages. Even if they don't get acknowledged, people really are encouraged when they know others are thinking of and praying for them.
  • Some of the most welcome gifts we got were blankets, stuffed animals, mylar balloon, socks, fun nail polish and stickers, head bands and hair ties, magazines, puzzle books, posters (for long term hospital stays), card and travel board games, lip balm, lotion, and favorite snacks.
  • Don't forget the caregiver. Taking them out for a quick bite to eat or a cup of coffee can do wonders for their spirits. Or giving them time to go home for a shower or a nap while you stay with the patient can also be another great break.
  • Mostly, the Golden Rule is a good guide. Do for your friend what you would want done for you if you were in their situation.



Diana Lesire Brandmeyer said...

Excellent list, Jen. So many times 'we' do want to help but don't know how.

Anonymous said...

This and the previous post are excellent advice for situations of crisis and care. These would be excellent for a church bulletin. Many Christians here the announcements about folks who ill, but don't know how to assist. Your posts would help.