How to Show you Care

Four Suggestions on Caring for Others in Crisis

When my Uncle Pete was sick with brain cancer in the early 90’s, I was scared to see him. I was not sure who he would be. I knew he would not be the same. I didn’t want him to see the response on my face that told him I knew he was different. I didn’t want to do the wrong thing. I didn’t want to cause harm.

When my friend was involved in a climbing accident where one person died. Again, I was uncertain how to be in that relationship. Should I make myself scarce or show up every day? Or somewhere in between. I baked cookies.

When my partner was in a climbing accident recently, I had the first-hand experience of what it is like to be on the receiving end of others generosity with time, food, and skills.

Some dropped everything in their lives to tend to ours – showing up at the trauma hospital, flying – or offering to fly across the country, making us food, building wheel chair ramps and moving computers, and sitting with me as I cried. Others were afraid to visit – these were mostly children – who struggled to see him transformed from an active, competent athlete to a guy in a hospital bed with a neck brace. They echo what most adults feel but don’t say.

It is hard to see real time the fragility of this human body. Hard to acknowledge we can break.

As a caring human, wanting to do the right thing, I am writing this to all the other caring humans out there as a short guide on how to show you care. As I get older the likelihood of these incidents happening more frequently – cancer, accidents, deaths – is high. Here are my suggestions on how to respond in these situations. Feel free to add yours in the comments section.

  1. Let the person know you know they are laid up.
    • The cards to my partner, the emails, letters, and texts are all welcome. They extend the love in perpetuity!
    • These days, at least for the caregiver, phone calls are tough to make or answer – time is condensed between care for the injured, kids, dog, and oh yeah, a bit of self-care!
    • Phone calls for the injured are welcome depending on their situation – cancer, maybe not, brain injury probably not, but just laid up with two broken legs – a phone call is just the thing to cheer him up.
    • And call or text more than once – continued care is needed even when the immediate trauma is over.
    • Check out this Parker Palmer article on being present for people.
  2. Ask before you bring or send food.
    • Food is how people show their love. Food is amazing. We have had some delicious food.
    • Call, text, or email to see if food or shopping is needed before you bring or send food. Sometimes, especially at first, I found myself managing the beautiful food arriving from our community. With no time, I felt overwhelmed. I was appreciative, but had to work overtime to eat the food that arrived before it went bad!
    • A friend set up a Meal Train. That was a beautiful way to manage food without extra work.
    • Lastly, if you bring food, build into your plan a way to pick up your dishes later!
  3. Come visit.
    • If you get turned away at the door, do not take it personally. Just come.
    • People need you at these times. They do not know they need you, but they do. Maybe not at this moment, but at some point. AND they will likely not reach out or know the moment when they need you most. They are busy and barely know what they need as they have had no time for self-care!
    • Some of the best friendships are formed with the people that just show up – and do not take it personally if you are shown the door.
  4. Don”t ask what they need. They do not know.
    • As the caregiver, people keep asking me what I need. I do not know sometimes, and  it is uncomfortable to ask as I am getting so much help. Just jump in and do dishes, or mow the lawn, or weed the garden, or be a sounding board for me to vent to, or listen as I talk of all my “shoulds” and reality check with me what are legitimate things I need to do and what I can let go of.
    • Take the kids (or dog…) or caregiver on adventures. Or at least offer. Our kids have had some pretty cool adventures since the accident. And again, do not be offended if they do not go. They sometimes want to stick around and be together as a family.

Do you have anything to add? I invite YOUR perspective for a change. What have you found that worked for you in these times? We all have wisdom to share.

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