I remember the weeks that our eldest daughter was in the hospital where she was ultimately diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, and I vividly recall the first several months back home. She was 14. She could barely walk or eat. I was very sick thanks to growing our sweet baby number seven. Steve was handling the groceries and follow-up testing and appointments while struggling to hold onto our business in a plunging economy in the Vegas area.
It was a trying time and, looking back, I can’t feasibly comprehend how we mere mortals survived that period.
If not for the grace of God…
Some people offered to help. We should have accepted. Honestly, though, when someone says, “Let me know if I can help,” you never let them know. We don’t, anyway.
“Let me know” feels rather like a “How do you do?” from a passing acquaintance; the greeting merely expects a “Fine, and you?” They don’t really want to hear about your aunt’s illness and your daughter’s grades in school and your auto repairs. It feels that same way with a “let me know,” doesn’t it?
That said, there was one family who looked us in the eye and said, “You tell us how we can help. You know we mean that.” And we knew…but we didn’t ask. There were also a couple relatives who volunteered to fly out and help. We didn’t accept. Why in tarnation not?
Here’s Why People Like Us Don’t Ask For Help
We were so wrapped up in the medical decisions and the basics of survival, that we couldn’t think of what to ask for, we couldn’t manage the logistics of airport pick-ups, wheels, and accommodations for helpers, and we certainly didn’t want to burden others with the remainder of our life issues which we could somehow struggle to manage on our own, being the independent do-it-yourselfers that we are.
We could manage to get some sort of food on the table. We could manage to keep everyone in clean clothes to some extent. We could manage to drive over an hour away to take care of the dog and drive back to the hospital and charity house. We could. It would have been a whole lot easier if we didn’t have to manage food and laundry and dog care while managing a very sick child and five very concerned other children and a brand new baby.
It’s ridiculous that we didn’t ask for help, I know, but how many times haven’t you done this same thing? Be honest.
After a birth, following a miscarriage or other death, during an illness or while being diagnosed, during financial hardships, when a mama is newly pregnant and puking up her rib cage, during a move, after debilitating news–those are all times when people need help, and that’s okay.
Let’s see how we can offer help to someone in a manner that will be effective, rather than make them think they’re begging for help or imposing on others.
- Instead of saying, “Let me know if I can help,” rephrase it to “I sincerely want to help. Please tell me what I can do. I mean this with all my heart.” This is the bare minimum. They will still probably not tell you how you can help. We wouldn’t.
- Give them a list of ways you can help and say, “Pick three.” Stand there until they do, or say you’ll call in a day or two to get an answer.
- Can you cook? Everyone needs to eat. Tell the family that you will be bringing dinner some time this week (or every Wednesday for a month), and to pick the best date for them. That leaves no asking on their part–just thanking. Be sure you ask about food sensitivities. While they would appreciate any food, often the family-in-crisis resorts to quick and filling and would love something healthy and homemade.
- Slip a grocery or gas gift card in their mailbox or hand. Everyone needs those. If you’re a close friend or family member, steal the car for an hour (when they don’t need it) and fill it with gas; you might consider running it through a car wash while you’re at it.
- Drop a bag of groceries off at their home, maybe with a family-friendly movie or a puzzle tucked in. Tell them you’re coming and say, “Set a cooler out front to let me know you’re too tired for company, and I won’t come in and bother you. If there’s no cooler, I’ll knock.”
- Are you good with kids? Say this: “I would love to pick your kids up Thursday and bring them over for crafts and cookie baking if you’re comfortable with that. Otherwise, I would be more than happy to come and watch them so you can run errands or take a shower and a nap. Don’t feel obligated to socialize with me.”
- Say this: “I’m coming over to do your laundry. No arguments! I’ve seen dirty undies before, so don’t hide them before I get there.” (That last part is important.)
- Say this: “I’m coming over to clean your house, not because you’re a slob, but because you need a break. You can take a nap while I’m cleaning.” Or give them a gift certificate for a cleaning person with the same “not because you’re a slob” explanation.
- If you are a long distance relative, say this: “I really want to help. Would it be helpful if I came and stayed to help, or would it be more work to have me there. Please be honest.” And while you’re there, please be helpful. We’ve had “helpful” guests that were far more work than help.
- If you live far away or don’t have the time, order food to be delivered. You can also have toilet paper and other necessities delivered through Amazon.
- Go with them. Doctor visits and hearing diagnoses are scary. Funeral arrangements are confusing. Bankruptcy proceedings are humiliating. Go along and hold a hand.
- Send cards, emails, and well-wishes often. Often! People generally offer help and sympathy immediately after a difficult event, such as the start of an illness or a diagnosis; the prayers and sentiments commonly fall off after a short time.
- Get techy. Ask if they are on Care Pages, Caring Bridge, or another online update site via which you can follow their medical progress. Get the Stand With app and encourage your friend or family member to do the same.
- Sit with them. Some people simply want to feel less lonely, less scared, less…different. Sit with them and chat, laugh, cry, pray. Put your phone away during this time.
- Be understanding. Sometimes fear and pain elicit the worst in us; be patient through these moments.
- Ask. Then listen. Nothing’s worse than the whole world pretending your problem doesn’t exist, or switching the conversation to their cat or their kid’s grades every time you bring up your struggle. Well, I’m sure something’s worse than that, but when you’re immersed in pain, being ignored or compared to someone’s cat or a 3rd grade report card belittles your hurt.
- Give the family or couple some movie tickets. Offer to sit with all the kids or with the ill person if she or he cannot go. During a crisis, couple time becomes time spent in doctors’ offices and waiting rooms–not the most romantic setting. Often the financial toll a situation takes is almost as intense as the main issue–what may be no biggie to you is huge to that family, like a couple movie tickets or a trip to the zoo.
- Take over their jobs at church or other volunteer locations…with permission, of course.
- Enlist a group of people to provide meals for a while, take shifts with babysitting, visit, whatever! Look within your church for this group–even if the person doesn’t attend a church, it’s a great introduction to the imperfect but loving heart of the Christian.
- Listen. (I know I already said this, but it’s important.) Let them grumble, cry, scream, sulk, whatever! And don’t say anything stupid or critical in the process. The stuff your loved one is going through is hard–if you haven’t been there, you can’t comprehend the depth of the pain. Don’t judge, don’t gossip, don’t try to fix, don’t say, “well if you only–“, don’t roll your eyes–just listen.
Might I add, please don’t expect a thank you note. People are in such a haze during trying times, that sometimes they can’t even remember who helped or how they survived, much less muster the energy to write a note. Do it for the person, not for the credit.
I have received multiple requests for permission to print this to share at women’s conventions, funerals, hospitals, and the like. Please, friends, do share. To make that easier, click here or on the image below for a printable version.
Here is a great post from someone else’s experience with a few more helpful actions that would truly show you care.