Almost 3 years ago, I read a Facebook post called, “What to Say and Do to Help After a Disaster”.
The writer, Matt Williams, had just gone through his second flood in Houston. He kindly allowed us to republish the entire post.
Remember the song, “Lean on me”?
I just learned that a friend has received the news that his son will be fighting a likely-prolonged medical battle.
Thoughts that run through my mind include, what to do, how to help, when someone faces a personal tragedy - an illness or an unexpected life change, such as a job loss? I turned to at Matthew William's article and adapted a few to use in situations such as this.
Trauma is Tricky
How to help? People won’t want to ask for help, especially if it is a situation that is likely to be ongoing. If you ask, “How can I help?” They really won’t know how to answer. Life is too big right now. But, the need is there, and you can be the person to help. Even if it is a little at a time.
Be the Tortoise
Matt Williams reminds us that it is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes they need you more two weeks from now. Or two months. So, he recommends that we pace our help and pace ourselves. Be the Tortoise.
“…get out your calendar and pick a day or two a week for the next ten weeks or more and write down ‘show up.’” Set reminders for yourself on your phone or computer.
One day, drop off something, say hi. Even text or FB a message, “Thinking of you!” Send a favorite video or song or photo. Another week, volunteer to get their trash can to/from the street or walk their dogs.
Perhaps drop off food or supplies or gift cards.
Our son, who lives out of town, will call Fry’s for our birthdays and special events to order meal items for us. We just have to go pick the groceries up - don’t even have to get out of our car!
Williams suggests, “As a rule, don't just ask if they need anything, ask if they need anything else. Say ‘I’m coming by with trash bags and lunch, need anything else?’ This signals that you've already committed to coming by. They're likely to tell you what else they need.”
Life on Mars
When someone is in trauma, they might as well be living on Mars. Everything that was easy and automatic now becomes complex. If they’re caring for someone who is ill, the list of tasks has just quadrupled, the piles of papers and mail have grown like weeds. Priorities are rearranged, some are removed completely and new ones magically appear.
Anything you can do to help them resume normalcy will be like a breath of fresh air. Maybe weed their yard, or volunteer to take their car to the car wash or mechanic. Walk their dogs. Pick up homework, and find out when their children are in plays or music concerts or sporting events and attend to show support and cheer loudly!
Do you have photos on your computer or in a box somewhere? Make copies and share. Start a memory book and write about the great times you had together. It will be fun to reminisce.
Bank on It
Whenever the sky falls, there’s always an additional financial hit. Maybe they need money for gas, or extra for higher-than-expected utilities. Medical expenses like medications, bandages, supplies increase. More co-pays at the doctor’s office. So, financial help, even if it’s just pennies, will always be a benefit.
Don’t have extra cash? Check your wallet/purse and any other stashes. Maybe you have gift cards with unused balances or special BuyOneGetOneFree coupons you can share.
If you use digital coupons, you can frequently get 5 of each item. Buy more than you need and divvy up. Do you get free stuff at the grocery store or find toothpaste for 25¢ per tube? Make a fun & crazy gift basket of those cheap and freebie items.
Do they have pets or livestock? Drop off extra food and supplies for the critters.
Stuff you can bring
- Cases of bottled water or their favorite beverage
- Gift cards - groceries, WalMart, Target, even Home Depot and Lowes
- Cases of paper towels/toilet paper (everyone needs that!)
- Ziplock bags - all sizes (the 2 gallon ones come in very handy!)
- List of names, phone numbers and specialties for people to help or call if needed
- Food, complete with recipes taped on the items* - toss in some paper plates, plastic forks, napkins - check on dietary requirements first!
- Books to read, games to play, things for kids to do
- Plants or flowers to add a little cheer - make sure they’re easy to care for!
Things you can do
- Take home a couple of batches of laundry, return clean and folded
- Stop in and volunteer to tackle dishes or bathrooms
- Sit with their loved one so they can have a break
- Pick up & drop off kids at school or practice
- Make sure their trash can is taken to the road on the right day
- Pick up mail and newspapers so it doesn’t pile up
- Water their yard (be sure to do this early in the day or later in the evening)
- Be the organizer. Set up a meal list or calendar for tasks that volunteers can do
Things not to bring
- *If you bring food, don’t put it in dishes that they need to wash and return. No point in adding to their stress. Use disposables.
- Don’t bring games or toys with a lot of little pieces that can get lost or broken
- Don’t give anything that requires maintenance
- Pets are not usually a good gift
- If you’re coming to visit or help with a task, it’s probably best to leave your own pooch home
You’ll find people are very appreciative of even the slightest gift or gesture. Everything will help and be appreciated; what can’t be used, will be passed along to someone else who needs it.
After all, we’re all in this together!