10 Do’s and Don’t for helping someone in crisis (or grief).

This blog post is a long time coming.

I have tried to write about this topic so many times but something always stopped me.

I was afraid to be honest.

I didn’t want to seem ungrateful.

Background story

But something recently changed that.

For the past couple of months, my friends mother has been very sick. There was a period of time where my friend didn’t know if her mother was going to live or die.

(Don’t worry. My friend is aware of this blog post. She will not be blind-sided.)

A few months ago, my friends mother went into septic shock.

I spent a lot of time messaging back and forth with my friend. At the time, she was concerned she was burdening me with painful memories. I would be lying if I said that events like this do not stir up painful memories. I remember how lonely I felt when Bryon was in the ICU. I wasn’t physically alone but I was emotionally alone.

I can assure you that you don’t know that kind of fear until you have lived it.

After surviving that experience, I can’t let anyone sit through that experience alone.

So I can push aside all those painful memories and the emotions attached to those memories to help those who are going through similar situations.

(By pushing aside those emotions…I don’t mean push those emotions aside literally. It is import to acknowledge those feelings. Feel them. Then set them aside.)

My friends mother was in the hospital for a couple of months. I offered to help my friend in other ways during this time but my friend said she was okay. I didn’t push. (More on that later in this post)

My friends mother was discharged from the hospital earlier this week.

My friend has messaged me and she thanked me for being there for her. I responded that I felt bad because I did not do enough for her.

My friend’s response was that she disagreed.

She said I helped her and was informative about the experience. I helped her to ask the right questions, especially at a time when her brain could barely think of anything other than not knowing if her mother was going to live or die.

I remember how overwhelmed I was when Bryon was sick. A lot of information was thrown at me.

I pondered this and it all clicked.

I had helped my friend in the way she needed to be helped.

My feeling like I hadn’t done enough to help my friend was about making myself feel better.

I think it is human nature that we try to help people in the ways we think they need to be helped, not in the way they actually need to be helped.

Since I have officially been on both sides of this issue, I feel like I can finally write about this important topic.

  1. Do remember that it’s about THEM and not YOU.

I start with this one because I think all the other items on this list stem from this.

Before you think I am being critical, I want to remind you that I am guilty of doing this.

I am not saying everyone is helping for the wrong reasons. But unless you are Mother Theresa, you are not 100% selfless. To some extent, you are offering to help because  you are trying to make yourself feel better.

I am not saying to not help people.

Your friend or family member, or coworker or neighbor or you friend of the a friend or acquaintance or maybe even a complete stranger is having a hard go and you want help fix the problem. That is a good thing. You are a good person.

Just make sure that you are helping or offering to help to actually help, not to just make yourself feel better. If you feel better in the process, that’s a double win.

I promise you, if you keep reading, this point will make sense by the end of the list.

  1. Do respect boundaries.

Some people are not comfortable asking for help or receiving help. They may not want to accept help. They might be embarrassed to accept help. Our culture encourages us to be independent and stoic. Many of us don’t know how to accept help.

They are most likely overwhelmed.

When you are in the middle of a crisis, it’s hard to think of anything besides the person who is very sick or might die. You may want to help but the truth is, almost everything is the further thing from their mind.

It’s great that you want to help, but don’t push.

Just be ready to help when they are finally ready to accept it.

  1. Do offer specific ways to help.

When someone is going through a trauma, we want to help. We may not know how to help so we have a tendency to say “Let me know if you need anything.” I am guilty of this, even in my post-trauma life. But I am going to explain why this isn’t very helpful.

When someone is going through a trauma or has just experienced a major loss, they may not know what they need. They are overwhelmed. Their life was literally just turned upside down.

When Bryon was in the ICU, I subsisted on iced coffee and those ice cream sundae cones that were sold in the hospital cafeteria. Depending on how well Bryon was doing that day indicated whether I would take the time away to shower and take care of my daily hygiene. I know it’s gross but it’s a reality. Things that are normally viewed as vital take a backseat when you are in crisis.

I knew my parents were taking care of my toddler daughter and my cat. Bryon had scheduled all our monthly payments before he got sick. But I had no clue about anything else and I had no brain power to think of anything other than “is my husband going to live or die”?

You might be wondering, what if the person has died? A widow doesn’t need to worry anymore about the outcome, right?

To give you an example of where my mind was during those early days of widowhood, I lost my phone. My parents and I spent an hour tearing apart the house. I finally found my phone…in the refrigerator. I have no idea why my phone was there.

Also, don’t put your phone in the fridge. My phone was never the same after that. It became possessed and Bryon wasn’t there to fix it for me.

My point is, if you want to help someone going through a trauma or loss, be specific.

Is their lawn overgrown? Offer to mow it.

Is something in their house in disrepair? Offer to fix it.

Want to bring them dinner? Ask them if you can bring dinner on Thursday night or if you can give them a gift card to their favorite restaurant.

Just be specific because it will be a lot easier for the person to say “yes” or “no” than come up with task.

It’s great you want to help but make it easy on the person you are trying to help.

  1. Don’t take it personally if your help isn’t needed.

When someone is going through a trauma or a loss, people offer to help.

A lot of people.

That is great but the person you want to help may be inundated with offers to help. They may already have someone mowing their lawn or bringing them meals. They are most likely grateful for your offer but they are too overwhelmed to think of something else that might need tending to.

I had people get mad at me because they offered to help and I didn’t take them up for it.

I became stressed out that I was offending people because I didn’t take them up on their offers.

You don’t want to put someone who is going through a trauma or loss to feel guilty on top of all the other emotions that come with that crisis.

Don’t take it personally. However, remember to…

  1. Do follow up.

All those people offering to help the person in crisis will eventually disappear. They will move on with their lives and lose interest.

If you are patient, you will get a chance to help.

If you truly want to help the person, follow up every couple of weeks or once a month.

Trust me, there is a good chance this person will need help in the months and even years to follow. A widow will post on Facebook that they need and not get any responses and wonder what happened to all the people at the funeral who offered to help. It happens.

  1. Do follow through

If you promised to help, show up.

I know life happens and sometimes legitimate things pop up that may prevent you from following through. And that’s okay.

But if someone is going through a crisis and you gave your word, trying your hardest to be there.

If you have to back out, try to find a replacement.

The person going through the crisis is counting on you.

When Bryon was in the ICU, I had a friend agree to baby-sit my young daughter. Around the time my friend was supposed to arrive, she texts me and asks if I still needed her to baby-sit.

What?

I affirmed that yes, I still needed her to baby-sit like she agreed to.

My friends started giving excuses. She was a manipulative person in general and she was trying to get me to say something along the lines of “That’s okay. I’ll manage.”

I didn’t. I ended the conversation along the lines of “well you got to do what you got to do.”

The same person offered to help me if I needed it in the future.

I can’t make this up.

I never asked her for a favor again.

And luckily another friend came to the rescue and baby-sat my daughter that evening. In case you were wondering.

  1. Do let go of attachments and expectations.

Here you need to be like Elsa and let it go.

Just help. Don’t worry what the person does with the gift cards or excess food or whatever. Don’t get attached to any outcome. This person is just trying to survive and doesn’t need people breathing down their neck.

An example-

When asked for suggestions on how to help new widows, I always suggest a Target gift card. Because if the widow is financially strapped, she can use it to buy laundry detergent, underwear, cat food, whatever she needs. If she’s okay financially, then she gets some retail therapy. But don’t give her a gift card and tell her how to spend it.

This example leads me to…

  1. Do respect their privacy

Just because you help someone does not mean that you they owe you an explanation on life choices.

If you help someone, it does not mean that you get to ask about their financial situation or their relationship status.

If you help someone, it does not mean that you get a say in their living arrangements or parenting choices.

As Salt N Pepa said:

It ain’t none of your business.

If someone needs your opinion, they will ask for it. End of story.

  1. Don’t keep score.

It’s not like Nike. Just don’t do it.

Let the Karma Gods worry about it. They can keep track on their Google-Doc-In-the-Sky spreadsheet.

If someone is going through a crisis and you help them, I would say that there is a 99.9% chance that this experience will change them forever. They will most likely pay it forward the best to their ability. They are not required to report back to you every time they paid it forward.

Of course, there is the 0.01% chance that the person you helped isn’t profoundly changed.  And if that’s the case, you may just need to accept that you helped an asshole and move on.

If you help someone, it doesn’t mean that you can take the relationship for granted because they “owe” you.

If you help someone and feel the need to keep score, just back away from the relationship. This is where things get toxic.  This isn’t a healthy relationship for anyone involved.

  1. Don’t throw it in their face afterwards.

If you throw the fact that you helped someone in their face, you might be an asshole.

Again. It’s not like Nike. Just don’t do it.

Because, Karma.

If you find yourself in this situation, you suggest you re-evaluate your life and how you treat people.

And if you happen to be the person who accepted help and someone who helped you threw it in your face, walk away from that relationship. It’s not a healthy dynamic.

Final thoughts

I hope this information is useful. The purpose was to help people be the most effective when helping.

I really hope this post did not come across as negative. We are all probably guilty of many of the items on this list.  Don’t feel bad.  As long as you are trying to help people, then you’re heart is in the right place and that is the most important thing.

If you have any suggestions on how to help those in crisis, feel free to drop me a comment.

If you have ever been in a position where you needed to accept help, what did you find useful?

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