Sometimes words just fail us. When others around us are suffering the unimaginable, or enduring a challenge that doesn’t have an end in sight, all of the normal encouraging or supportive phrases can seem inadequate. But there are things you can do to offer comfort and care in a time of need that don’t require perfect words.
1. Fill their table. When a family is dealing with a devastating loss or coping with long-term illness, taking care of daily needs like cooking can be daunting. Dropping off a hot meal (or a few freezer meals that can be easily re-heated in the oven or crock-pot), can be a blessing. The family in need may be inundated with gifts of food in the first days of illness, or after a loss, but can still benefit from the comfort of that gesture for weeks or months. Check in with them in a couple of weeks when others may have “moved on” and bless them with a meal.
2. Honor the departed. When a loved one dies, grieving families can experience an affirmation of the value of their lives when others recognize and honor those things that were important to them. Make a memorial contribution to a charity that was important to the deceased. Share favorite memories, either in person or in a letter, with family and friends of the positive things he or she accomplished in life. Let them know that the good things didn’t go unnoticed, and that they will be remembered.
3. Help shoulder the burden. A grieving family or a person dealing with long-term illness can often benefit from additional leave from work. If your company allows, consider donating some sick days or personal days from your own account to give them the time they need to grieve or recuperate without major financial impact. If donating leave time isn’t possible, look for ways to help a co-worker by taking care of a project or responsibility during a difficult time to help them avoid stress.
4. Meet practical needs. If cooking isn’t your strength, consider meeting one of the other practical needs of a family in crisis. Drop by and cut the grass, or offer to help out with housekeeping or laundry. Take over responsibilities for their kids, like carpooling to school or activities. Help them keep the wheels of everyday life turning while they learn to cope.
5. Just be available. Some families who’ve suffered a loss share stories of appreciation for friends and neighbors who didn’t necessarily say or do anything special, but were simply there, sitting quietly nearby, in a time a need. Your mere presence may be comforting to someone in pain, along with your willingness to simply listen when they are ready to talk about their feelings.
6. Don’t underestimate the power of, “I’m so sorry.” Often, those who grieve need just to know that you care. A warm hug, a comforting touch, and an acknowledgement that you love them and care about their pain can be welcome. You can’t fix what’s wrong, but you can let them know that they’re not in it alone.