Casserole, Hanging Plant or Load of Laundry?: Supporting Someone in Crisis

Your co-worker’s child was in a serious accident, your neighbor’s father just passed away, or your best friend was diagnosed with a serious illness. You want to be helpful but you’re not sure what to do. Here are some ideas that people have shared with me over the years:

1) Food. In the middle of a crisis people can overeat or stop eating, want high-calorie food or only healthy choices. Some people value a freezer full of meals while others don’t want to even heat up a frozen pizza. On top of that, people have dietary restrictions, allergies, and specific preferences. Designate a point person (a close friend that’s not personally involved in the crisis) to coordinate meals, make sure the family is not overwhelmed, and procedures are in place for delivery.

2) Errands/Household Tasks. In the middle of a crisis things like laundry, house-cleaning, picking up kids from summer camp, and remembering to put gas in the car can all feel challenging. People’s brains literally shift into trauma response and the logical part no longer works. Decide one or two things you can offer to do. Be specific (e.g. I can pick up Joe after summer camp and take him out for a snack), and follow through.

3) Attending Events. Going to wakes, court hearings, funerals and memorial celebrations are all important options. Veronica shared with me how difficult it was to plan her aunt’s memorial service only to have very few people show up because “we only knew you, and not your aunt.” Remember the events are for those left behind.

4) Cards/Flowers/Plants/Memorial Donations. These choices bring up lots of opinions. Susie stood in Target reading every sympathy card getting angrier and angrier at the greeting card industry, Peter strongly believed in not sending flowers, and Martha did not agree with the organizations designated for donations. This is an area where it’s important to make this about your friend, not about you. I’ve had families talk decades later about thoughtful cards or beautiful plants that they still enjoy.

In the end, make sure you take the time to do at least one of these options! I hear over and over again, “I didn’t realize how important it was for people to show up, until it happened to me.” Your card or presence might end up being one of the most important moments for someone.