“Call me if you need me.”
“I’m here for you.”
These are all very sincere offers and sentiments, and we’ve all heard them before.
We all know how it goes. Someone we care about experiences a tragedy or is going through a difficult time, and we don’t know what to do to help, but we desperately want to. Oftentimes, there’s not really anything we can do – the only way through it is through it; and it can be treacherous getting through it.
We recently had a medical emergency with our daughter. Well, we’re still living it – it’s one of those great, long, lingering situations that ebbs and flows. But when we were in the middle of (hopefully) the worst part of it, our friends and family showed up in lots of different and very concrete ways.
- Someone left a bottle of wine at the door, then texted to tell me it was there.
- Someone sent an electronic DoorDash gift card.
- Someone organized the neighborhood tennis game that I usually instigate.
- Someone texted my husband, dad-to-dad, to let him know he was thinking about him and offering to talk or just have some drinks.
- Someone texted me the specific prayer she was saying for our girl and the family.
- Someone made a special trip to pick up our other daughter from school when her own daughter didn’t even need to be picked up.
- So many people asked if I wanted to go for a walk.
- So many people texted they were thinking of us, praying for our girl, praying for the family, sending love. No questions – no action item for me.
- So many people called (I didn’t answer if I couldn’t handle it) and started their message with the words, “YOU DO NOT HAVE TO CALL ME BACK” and then proceeded to tell me they were thinking of us, they loved us, they were praying for us.
- So many people offered to pick up our other daughter from school.
- So many people offer to watch our daughter when we need to be somewhere since she can’t be alone right now.
I felt like I was at my limits of survival, so I couldn’t handle anything that felt obligatory. And that included answering texts. Texts with questions – especially the “how are you?” question – were so upsetting to me. I was terrible, I felt terrible; I was thinking about feeling terrible. The last thing I wanted to do was to talk about how terrible I was feeling. But the texts that simply let me know they were thinking about us and sending love, those were godsends. I could respond with a quick emoji without having to actually engage.
At the onset of our emergency, I, of course, told my family. Our situation sent waves through every part of our life, but I knew what I could and could not handle, so I set some pretty harsh boundaries with my family right away. I told them responding to individual texts just felt too overwhelming. My family respected those boundaries, and that meant the world to me.
I knew they were hurting too, and I knew it was on a constant loop in their brains as well. But I simply couldn’t help them or console them or take care of them – it was all I could do to help the family I’d created and myself. I know it was hard on them and lonely for them and scary for them, but at that point, I had to put my smallest and most important family first. And now, months later, I am still so grateful for the space they gave us then and the space they continue to give.
If someone tells you what they want and how you can help them, LISTEN TO THEM. Don’t assume you know what’s better for them – even if it’s not what you would want. If your friend or family member is in a place for it, brainstorm ideas on how to help them.
Maybe dinners aren’t a problem, but the idea of making lunches for the kids makes them feel like they could unravel on the spot. Maybe giving them a respite from talking about their issue is what they need, so time together where you don’t bring up the situation helps them out. Maybe someone to clean their house will help. Maybe they need help finishing up little annoying tasks – hanging pictures, changing out lightbulbs. If you’re out grabbing lunch, text them and ask if you can bring them some. Ask them over for a glass of wine. Or better yet – offer to bring wine and sit with them where they are – that way if they’re in their pajamas, they can stay in their pajamas!
If you’re the person who needs help (and can handle it), try to remember that people very sincerely want to help. If there is anything you can think of for someone to do, let them. It will take something off your plate and lets your community love you when they need to. If you have trouble asking for help like so many of us, please trust your friends and their love for you. They won’t think less of you, they won’t think you’re weak – they’ll be grateful you asked and happy to help.