A close friend tells you…
...that there has been tragic death in her family.
…that he and his wife are splitting up.
…that her daughter is really sick and that the doctors aren’t even sure what is going on.
…that he just lost job and doesn’t know what to do now.
…that (insert life-wrecking problem here.)
“If there is anything I can do for you, and I mean anything, please let me know!”
That is a pretty typical response we give to someone when we hear about a tragedy or rough circumstance in their life. You’ve given it. I’ve given it. And honestly, we mean well. We typically are genuinely willing to do anything. We just don’t know what to do. The problems is, when our friends and family members are caught in crisis, their heads are rarely clear enough to tell us what they need. They may not even be sure either. They just want things to be normal again. They want to feel ok again.
So here are some practical guidelines for helping people going through crisis.
1) Treat Them Normal: This is HUGE. They are already quite aware that something big is wrong in their life right now. Their normal life has been shaken. One of the biggest graces you can give them is to let them have some time to feel normal. Go grab that coffee with them like you usually would. When you spend time with them, don’t make it about their crisis. There is no need for your time spent with them to be focused on it. Proceed with life as usual. If they want to talk or vent about the crisis in their life, you can bet your money that they will bring it up when they are good and ready. Until then, keep life to business as usual.
2) Shut Up: Yes, shut up! When they do get to that point where they want to talk or vent it out, that is exactly what needs to happen.
They need to talk.
They need to vent.
You need to listen (this includes me. I’m a terrible at not talking.)
Most of the time when someone starts to share these things with you it is in the very act of talking itself that they find peace and relief. They are probably not looking for, and don’t really need, your thoughts, explanations, and opinions. If we approach the situation and decide we know everything, and then we share it with them, we are going to frustrate them. They just need a place to speak honestly and be safe; without having to worry about what someone else might think. If they want you to share an opinion, give advice, etc. they will ask!
3) Meet Practical Needs: Can you make them a meal? Watch out for their kids? Help with yard work? Give them a ride? When someone is in a crisis, not only is their normal everyday perception of life skewed, but everyday normal activities can fall to the wayside. If you are able, meet some practical needs. If you are not sure what needs to be done, ask, but ask specifically. Don’t ask “hey, can I help with stuff?” rather ask “Hey, can I come by and cut your grass this weekend?” Be specific. If you don’t know them well enough, ask friends and family. But by all means, standing in the gap and meeting practical needs is huge. Removing some of the smaller worries and providing relief from the regular stresses of life can provide someone with more strength to work through their crisis.
4) Help Them Find Help: If it gets to the point where you want to help, but it is obvious that the help they need falls outside of your abilities, help them find the appropriate help. Whether this is medical help, counseling help, or really anything, it is a great service to point them in the right direction. Maybe you know that they need to get the car repaired, but that isn’t something you can do. Help them find someone who can. Maybe once they do choose to talk to you, they begin to ask for advice and you have no idea what to say. Point them to someone who does. One of the worst things you can do is try to help someone in a way that you are unqualified. More often than not, you end up causing more damage. If you see a need, but you can’t help, guide them towards someone who can!