At surface level I’d like to think that being vulnerable is easy for me but my reality could not be farther from that. Being vulnerable and asking for help is one of the most difficult things for me to walk out. In a recent conversation with a good friend, she spoke directly to a harsh thought I have long grown to believe for myself. She challenged me to flip my narrative and instead of believing that showing emotion is bad, build a truth that allows showing emotion to be good.
It is humbling to be the friend in need. Why is that? Why is the messaging that it is ‘weak’ to ask for help and to show emotion? Why is admitting that we ‘don’t have it all together’ hard to mutter? We need to challenge and change this belief system.
The last few years of care taking and grief have forced me to both ask for and accept help. I’ve learned so much about myself but also about caring for a friend in need. The ways that people cared for me and my family were so creative, thoughtful, well timed and needed.
Here are a few ways to love a friend in need during a season they need it most:
- Accept your role
When you are traveling a time of hardship your bandwidth is significantly narrowed. After all of your roles and responsibilities during a life trauma there is very little left of you to go around. Assess what circle you are in during your friend’s season and accept your role. Sometimes it makes sense who is let in to the inner circle and other times it makes no sense at all. I never meant to be harsh with any relationships. It was survival at its finest while life felt like trudging through molasses.
- Ask the right questions
The brain fog is real when you are living moment to moment. It’s impossible to anticipate your need much less articulate it. The more specific the questions asked of me the easier it was for me to accept help.
For example, rather than saying ‘Let me know what I can do to help’, say ‘I’m going to bring you a meal this week. Is Wednesday or Thursday night at 5pm better?’. Or ‘I’m bringing dinner for you tonight. Would you like tacos or bbq chicken?’. Or ‘I’m going to come watch your kids. Is Monday or Tuesday afternoon from 1-4pm better?’.
- Be flexible
When living out crisis mode, making plans farther than a day or two in advance feels impossible and even paralyzing. If you have plans to see a friend allow them to make a ‘game time decision’ if they have the capacity to meet. Text the morning of and give them permission to pass on your meet up if they don’t have the bandwidth that day.
- Remove expectations
This one is hard and I wouldn’t have understood it had I not gone through it. If you notice a shift in your relationship while your friend is hurting, as best as you can, do not take it personal. There was very little ‘calculation’ to anything I did. It really, truly was survival. I had little to no energy and having to explain myself or situation more than once a day felt like too much most days. Things that were once easy like returning a text or making a phone call felt heavy and hard to do (that is if I didn’t forget all together). Any type of initiation I once had for relationships was saved for returning doctors calls, filling pill boxes or sifting through medical transcripts.
Love, reach out (I read every text/card/email/message and it meant so much to know others were thinking of me even if I didn’t respond. Send the message, more than likely its the very encouragement they are needing), help your friend in need but remove any and all expectations and know their actions were never, ever meant to be taken personally as difficult as that must be to understand.
Here are a few ways to help a friend in need during a season they need it most:
Food was so helpful! Not having to think about food, meal planning or grocery shopping was amazing. I loved when friends included easy snacks for the kids or even breakfast for the next day. If you are on the ‘outer circle’ this is a great way to help. Sometimes those in the outer most circles that helped meant the most. Remember to be specific on when you will bring your meal and what you are making. There are some great websites to help organize meals, food preferences, allergies and drop off times. Be quick when you are dropping off your meal as more than likely your friend has had a long day and and has used their mental energy by meal time.
- House Cleaning
A clean house in a normal season of life helps me feel my best but it’s one of the first things to go in crisis mode. I had wonderful friends pay a house cleaner every other week and it was such a gift!
- Self Care
Self care is greatly neglected when you are in need. Most of our ‘kid help’ hours were reserved for doctors appointments and self care felt selfish. Offer to watch kids for a few hours with no agenda. I had a friend even book a massage for me AND organize childcare and it made a significant difference in my mental health. A caretaker is often overlooked so when people ‘saw me’ it made me feel loved and cared for.
- Gift Cards
Live far away? Don’t like to cook? Or not sure what you should do? Gift cards were are great help to a local restaurant, grocery store, gas station, Amazon or the movies. It can feel guilty spending money on necessities and especially ‘fun’ things so gift cards helped alleviate that burden.
- Care package
I had friend who sent my kids a care package once a month over the course of 6 months or so. Each box my kids were so excited to open and explore the new to them snacks, art projects, books and various trinkets. I loved that someone saw my kids in this and the hours of entertainment it provided them and the quiet that was gifted to me while they played.
- Help after the season has passed
A neighbor of mine stopped by once a month the first year that I was a widow and brought us something. Breakfast treats, homemade pie, a freezer meal, etc. I never knew when she was coming and she didn’t stay long but I was always moved to tears that someone ‘saw me’ long after my season had passed. It was a very casual ‘Oh I just made extra’ or ‘We needed some too’ but it spoke volumes.
- Employ an army
Asking for help or knowing what you even need can feel paralyzing especially with brain fog in full force. A close friend came over one night and we made a list of needs and added people to each category: Errands, childcare, neighbors that could help in the night, etc. Once the list was complied my friend contacted everyone and let them know how they could specifically help. They would reach out to me weekly with specific asks. This gave great clarity to the helpers and also to me.
- Appoint a mouthpiece
Conserving mental energy is crucial in crisis. Appoint a close friend or family member to be your point person and gate keeper. They can share your message or updates with those who need to be in the know as well as be a contact person to reach out to as a step before the friend in need. Allowing your friend to conserve their energy for where it’s needed most is perhaps the greatest help of all.
- Help their way
If you are not sure how to help your friend in need, think back on how they served and loved you when you needed it most. Did they send meals? Notes of encouragement? It is most natural for us to love others how we like to be loved.
It is hard to find words to express my deep gratitude for those near and far that surrounded and loved me and my family though such dark tragedy. But we don’t need words because we have action. Action that speaks to kind hearts and generous spirits. How incredible is it that we have the capability to combine our efforts and server others in so many ways? Together we can change lives so dramatically by lending a hand and opening out heart to others in times of need.