By Susan Lawrence
“Let me know if I can do anything to help.”
We commonly extend the offer with a genuine desire to help. However, many times, people don’t know what they need, or they’re hesitant to ask. Through many difficult deaths and trials among our church family, I’ve learned a few things that help. Reach out to others even when they’re not reaching out.
• Simply be present. You don’t need to have the perfect words. You don’t need to have answers to every question. Sit with someone. Hold a hand. Give a hug through the sobs.
• Be flexible. Avoid inundating someone with questions or advice. Let the people who are suffering guide the process. If they want to reminisce, listen. If they want to sit in silence, sit with them.
• Provide the basics. When family and friends are to gather at the home, take paper plates, cups, plasticware, napkins, paper towels, hand soap, tissues, and toilet paper.
• Answer phone calls to their home and texts to their cell phones. Keep a written summary of messages, but only relay the time-sensitive ones. Share encouraging messages to the person as you sense they are needed.
• Encourage people to rest, drink water, and eat (even if it’s just one bite). Stress and grief are hard physically as well as emotionally.
• Guard people’s space. If you are close to the person, let him or her know you are willing to help others respect the space needed to heal. You might need to ask people to leave or be quiet, or you might need to sit with people while your friend takes a break and rests.
• Help out-of-town guests. Make a list of available accommodations, including phone numbers, amenities, and rates. (Ask for a bereavement rate.) Make several copies.
• Involve others. You can’t do it all on your own. Nor should you. Invite and serve alongside others.
• Watch from the corner. Pay attention to the process. Watch for patterns and changes. Fade into the background, so you can quietly pick up the pieces without making a fuss. Notice what needs to be done (laundry, trash, shopping, light cleaning, making beds) and do it. Take care of details, such as providing water and light snacks for family at a memorial service or coloring books and other simple activities for families with children.
• Follow up. When everything and everybody starts to resume daily life, the pain and loneliness often intensifies. Schedule meals to be delivered two or three times a week. The food will be appreciated, but even more so, those who deliver the food will remind people of the support system that will care for them for the long haul.
Susan Lawrence serves local and national ministries as a ministry consultant, speaker, and author. She serves at Taylorville (Illinois) Christian Church. Connect with her at PurePurpose.org.