Whether it’s a happy occasion like the birth of a new baby, a tragedy like the illness and death of a parent, or any other kind of crisis situation, it’s time for friends to step up. Don’t be paralyzed by indecision or fear when your friends really need you. Here are some tips on how to react.
1. First, check your motives. If you want to help out of true love and concern for the person, then proceed. I f you want to help because you think it will impress other people, or because you want the person to owe you later, stop right there
2. Second, do no harm. Don’t do anything right now that will add to your friend’s burden. If your mother has just suffered a devastating financial blow, this is not the time to call her up to complain that you hate your job. If your wife’s brother is in the hospital, this is a bad time to insist that she decide where to vacation. This may seem obvious, but some people, especially those with narcissistic tendencies, will create a crisis of their own when faced with a friend’s trouble.
3. It is always better to make a specific offer, rather than saying “Is there anything I can do?” This question adds the burden of thinking of something for you to do. People in the midst of a crisis are focused on the problem, and may not be organized enough or have the energy to delegate tasks. Plus, by offering to do “anything” you are not really being sincere. There are some things that even the closest friend won’t or can’t do for the person. You don’t want to have to say “Well, I’ll do anything but that” do you?
Here are some tips on how to determine what specific offer to make:
First, make sure that you don’t offer to do more than you will be comfortable with. You don’t want to get into a situation where you become resentful because the task is more difficult than it sounded, or worse, be unable to meet your commitment at all. Think realistically through how much time and effort the task will take, and what it will take away from your existing responsibilities. It’s fine to stretch yourself when someone you love needs you, but realize and accept what the cost will be to you.
Second, consider your relationship to the person. I f you know the person through your child’s soccer team, then it makes sense for you to offer to pick up and bring the child home from practice. If you know the person through work, maybe there is a specific work task you could cover for them. If they are a neighbor, you could pick up the paper, etc. Food and child and pet care are almost going to be appreciated.
Also consider the specific crisis and what abilities you have that could be useful. For example, if you have experience working in a hospital, you can help a person with a sick relative understand what to expect, if you know about cars, you can help a friend understand whether the garage is recommending something reasonable or trying to rip him off. Are you good with details and follow-up? Help file an insurance claim.
If you are still at a loss as to what to offer, a simple call may be the answer. Let the person know you heard about their trouble and you are thinking about them and you are sorry. Then be quiet. Remember not to ask if there is “anything you can do.” If you will just listen, something may come up in the conversation that will give you an idea, or it may be enough for you to have called and expressed your support. Don’t forget about the person, keep in touch and keep tabs on the situation. Something may present itself as a way for you to be helpful. A phone call is usually best because a visit can be an imposition, and email or texting can seem too impersonal.
If there is something the person will need done regularly for a while, such as meals, consider setting up an online signup sheet at mysignup.com so that everyone can more easily pitch in. Email your social group and let them know they can sign up for a certain day and even designate what they will bring.
Caution: Do not let your concern turn into meddling. If someone rejects your offer, respect that, and just continue to monitor the situation without becoming annoying. Also remember that it is not your responsibility to swoop in and make everything all better (unless you are the source of the trouble.) If you have a certain person who seems to go from crisis to crisis, examine whether your constant rescuing is enabling them to keep making bad decisions.
And remember, the next time you have a problem, let people help you. It will bring you closer and give your friends the gift of being truly useful. When your loved ones see you hurting, they hurt, too and they want to do something.