Last summer, our family was living abroad when tragedy struck: My 6-year-old daughter was seriously injured in a fall and had to spend several days in a German hospital. Being so far from the comfort of family and friends, I longed for their support. Many people asked my husband and me what they could do to help us during such a difficult time since popping over with a casserole was out of the question.
In the midst of my own tough situation, I began to think outside the box about ways to extend loving care to a friend going through a difficult time, whether an unexpected injury, debilitating illness, or grief following loss. There were so many comforts large and small I would have welcomed after my daughter’s injury if only friends had been nearby to offer them. Though there’s nothing wrong with bringing a home-cooked meal, here are nine other thoughtful ways to offer support.
Children can sometimes be a comfort in the midst of grief, but they can also exacerbate a difficult situation. Taking a friend’s kids off their hands for awhile may alleviate stress, allowing them much-needed time and space.
2. Make a mixtape
Yep, I said mixtape. The days of actual cassettes may be long gone, but the concept of the perfect playlist lives on. Music heals. When my daughter was injured, if I had known a friend had carefully selected songs for my comfort and consolation, I would have clung to them like an anchor for my soul. You can easily create a playlist and share it with a friend on Spotify, iTunes, or Pandora.
3. Run errands
Get the car washed, go to the post office, pick up prescriptions at the drugstore. Who couldn’t use help with these things even in everyday life? The unpleasant surprise of tough times throws us off, muddying up our routines. Getting assistance with the minutiae of daily tasks could sure take a load off.
4. Listen without judgment
In the midst of a recent family crisis, I received a text from a friend. “If you need to talk without any judgment about your situation, let me know.” Even though this friend and I aren’t that close, her offer of a safe listening ear allowed me the cathartic space to vent. Sometimes, all we need to feel better is the ability to be fully honest about our situation.
Grief saps energy as completely as any physical ailment. The last thing a person in crisis wants or needs to think about is mustering the oomph to clean house. You may find a grieving friend initially resists your offer to clean—it takes some humility to allow others to see our mess—but once accepted, this act of service can provide enormous emotional and practical relief.
6. Provide groceries or household supplies
Dinner is always welcome, but there happen to be two other meals most people eat each day, not to mention household items that can’t go neglected for too long. Bringing groceries for breakfast and lunch or supplies like paper plates, toothpaste, or toilet paper might actually be more welcome to someone experiencing grief than dinner delivery.
7. Put together a care package
In addition to helping out with the basics of food and supplies, a thoughtful care package goes above and beyond to offer TLC. Make self-care easy for your friend by putting together a gift basket of comfort items like her favorite scented lotion or his favorite aftershave, warm socks, or a book you’ve found helpful in sorrowful times.
8. Take them out (or in)
Years ago, after I suffered a miscarriage, a group of my friends surprised me by showing up at my house and whisking me out to a nice dinner. My first reaction was one of aggravation—I wanted to huddle in my house with my grief—but after a couple of hours out with friends, I found I truly did feel better. Getting out for awhile can take us away from the world of hurt we inhabit in our minds. Alternatively, if your friend isn’t up for going out, perhaps they could join you for a good movie or cup of coffee at their place or yours.
9. Give a spiritual bouquet or place them on a prayer chain (and pray with them yourself)
A spiritual bouquet consists of a card that lists spiritual action being taken for the recipient, such as the number of Masses attended or rosaries prayed on behalf of the grieving person. What a beautiful gift to know others are regularly interceding for us! Similarly, placing a friend on one (or more) prayer chains ensures they’ll be lifted up in prayer by many others. Churches, ministry groups, and even Christian TV and radio stations often have a system in place for submitting requests that others commit to pray for. Don’t know of any offhand? Go online to find prayer chains anyone can add to. And of course, praying with and for your friend in person provides deep comfort and peace.
From my own experiences, I’ve learned that while the standard “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do” means well, concrete action provides so much more assistance. When you know a friend is laid low in the mire of grief or despair, don’t wait for their call. Take action. Step in. Show up. Whether it’s bringing a meal or doing something less orthodox, any practical help will be welcomed with immense gratitude.
Originally published Jan 22, 2018.