My daddy died when I was 22.
I can’t remember much of what that time was like, but I know my world was in a tailspin. I graduated from college, got married one week later, and lost my father to leukemia the day I came home from my honeymoon.
Let’s just say it was a full month.
When my dad was diagnosed, people didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know what to say. A lot of them kind of disappeared…not because they didn’t want to help, but because they didn’t know HOW to help.
I figured maybe it would be helpful to share some of the ways my friends encouraged me – and what I’ve learned about living through a crisis. And I guess I’ve experienced this two-fold, because I had my own bout with cancer about five years ago.
So, what did they do?
They DIDN’T say, “Let us know what we can do.”
In the middle of a crisis, I was living in the NOW, and I didn’t really know what I needed. To be honest, I wasn’t going to start calling my friends asking for help. And I guess I’m not good at asking for help – not many people are. So, instead of asking the friend or family in crisis to contact YOU, come up with three possibilities of things you might do for them, give them the option – and then do it. Some ideas?
- Provide meals – but not necessarily cooked food. Make sure you’re not adding MORE work to their lives by giving them dishes to wash. Meals that can be FROZEN or gift cards to their favorite restaurants and/or grocery stores are really good.
- Run errands – groceries, pick up kids, drop off kids, etc.
- Take their kids for a couple hours
- Clean their house (but be sensitive about this – some people aren’t cool with it)
- Walk their pet
- Just remember everyone is different. If they tell you no, don’t be offended. They don’t need offended friends right now (or anytime, really).
They listened really well.
When you don’t know what to say, ask questions and just listen. Be there. Hug. The question, “How are you REALLY doing?” goes pretty far. It’s okay to be honest and say you don’t know WHAT to say. I appreciated the people who let me talk about my feelings, cry on their shoulders, and sincerely stopped long enough to ask how I was doing.
BUT – I didn’t ALWAYS want to talk about the crisis. I told the story so many times, sometimes I just wanted to feel normal again. So asking about the “normal” stuff is always good when you don’t know what else to say.
Sidenote: Normal also means taking your friend out for coffee or dinner or shopping – but just a short getaway. Don’t expect a full day or a long visit. Just enough to give them some normality if they want or need it.
They didn’t give advice or compare situations.
While it’s always okay to share how your heart connects with the pain your friend is feeling, there is no pain like the current pain he or she is experiencing. One of the worst things to say is, “I know what you’re going through” or “I know how you’re feeling”.
Here’s the deal. The friends who really KNEW how I was feeling didn’t need to tell me they knew. They just DID. They cried with me. They empathized and USED their past experiences to know and understand that while they couldn’t fix it, they could be my FRIENDS.
They didn’t explain WHY it was happening or try and give spiritual reasons to justify it. They prayed for me, with me, and encouraged me. The sent me scripture. They REALLY prayed – not just talked about it. And they TOLD me when they were praying.
They didn’t have expectations.
When someone is in crisis, they feel pretty empty, because all of his/her emotions are dedicated to the crisis.
Give without expectation. Drop off a special gift, but don’t expect to be invited in. Send a note in the mail, but don’t expect a thank you. Don’t get upset if you aren’t the “first one” to get the news. Don’t be upset if you don’t get the news personally.
You know what? Don’t be upset.
Love without condition.
You don’t know what you’re walking into when you visit at the hospital or knock on the door or call on the phone. You don’t know where your friend is physically, emotionally, or mentally.
I had some very unconditional friends who were just “there”. They called, left voicemails, left gifts, brought food, showed up, didn’t stay too long, and just loved me.
They had no expectations.
But I knew they were there.
They didn’t stay too long.
This is a tough one, because it can depend on the individual.
BUT, it’s better to stay a little instead of overstaying your welcome. People lovers like me can feel a lot of pressure to “entertain” my guests. I’m a HUGE people person and I LOVE making people feel loved and appreciated. So, my friends understood that if they stuck around too long, I wouldn’t go take that nap or get that work done or spend time with my family.
It’s important to be sensitive to the needs of your FRIEND, and forget about what YOU want for a little bit. Realize that at some point, it will be your friend’s turn to give to you in a crisis. Don’t make him/her feel like you’re only doing stuff so you’ll get love in return.
That’s not real friendship.
Real friendship is FULL of expectancy – excited about the moments together – and is VOID of expectation. Real friendship is reciprocal – but you don’t worry about when they’ll reciprocate. You just give because you love. Real friendship is a gospel partnership – loving like Jesus loves. And Jesus didn’t get miffed because the disciples weren’t as good at loving as He was. He was a gentle friend. He spoke truth in love. But He LOVED first.
My friends (and you know who you are) really showed up during my crisis. They were available. But even the ones who didn’t, who struggled, I get it. Sometimes we love someone so much we don’t know what to do. So hopefully this will give you some insight – I know everyone is different, so this isn’t a sure fire solution.
But it’s a start.
We remember the people who showed up.
My father died May 25, 1999. His story is one of grace, love, and miracles. My story is similar – and I am thankful to be a living testament of healing. How have people “shown up” in your crisis? I would love to hear about it in the comments below.
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