My main disclaimer here is that I'm writing this as a reminder to myself!
We hear a friend or relative is having a difficult time. We sympathize, or even deeply empathize. We want to help. So, we respond:
"Let me know if you need anything. Really, I mean it! Don't hesitate to ask."
"Let me know if you'd like me to bring you a meal."
"Let me know if you want to come over for dinner."
"Call me if you need to talk."
"Let me know if I can help."
"I'll be thinking of you."
Our offers of help and comfort are sincere and well-intentioned. Encouraging words are wonderful. Letting someone know you care and you're there if they need you is great. All of these gestures are welcome and appreciated. All our responses come from a real, heartfelt desire to help.
But, if you're the one who's struggling, how often do you actually contact these people and ask them to make good on their offers???
If you're like me, the answer is almost never. Or, possibly, just plain never.
But here's what I think is the real problem. When we're on the help-offering end, although we sincerely feel for the person, we're not really taking the initiative - taking action. I fervently believe we can't just assume that if they didn't call or contact you, they must be okay. In a culture where people don't drop by unannounced, we live separate from our extended families, we value privacy, we like to be independent and in control, (and if we're brutally honest, we're just too busy and over-scheduled with our own stuff to do things for others), there are so many barriers on both sides to tangibly helping each other.
To overcome these obstacles, I think we need to change our response. So, the next time you know of a friend in need, you might try one of these approaches:
"I would like to bring you dinner. What day can I bring one next week? Wednesday, Friday or Saturday would work great on my end, will any of those work for you?"
"I'd like to drop a meal off on Monday afternoon and you can put it in the freezer for when you need it. Let me know when you'll be home."
"I would like to have you over for dinner. What day works for you next week? Friday's a good day for us, but if that doesn't work let's figure out something else."
"I would like to take your kids for a couple hours next week - will Thursday morning work for you?"
"I'd like to come over Saturday and help you move/unpack/keep you company/help with XYZ...what time should I show up?"
Any of these approaches get a real conversation going between you and your friend. It becomes a given that the help WILL happen - it's only a matter of where and when.
And CALL! It's much harder for someone to pass up your offer when you have the person on the phone. We all know that in this day and age, an actual call means so much.
Or, dare I say, don't even ask. Just figure out a way to show up at the door, drop something off, etc. We can make excuses all day long for why this isn't appropriate, or what if they're in their pajamas or not home...just get past this and figure out a way to make it happen.
And take it a step further - if your first attempt doesn't work for schedule or logistical or unexpected reasons, avoid thinking, "we'll, I tried." Most of the time you can tell if they did really want it to work out somehow. Figure out a way to reschedule or try a different strategy or mode of helping. So many of us pride ourselves on being persistent and driven in other aspects of our lives; we can certainly channel these qualities into helping others.
I know we can't all do this for everyone all the time. But I sure think it would be great if we could try it more often. Let's get all up in each others' lives and business, yo?
Anyway, that's all.