Monday, March 22, 2010

Helping Hands

Since 2004, I've facilitated grief-bereavement workshops, and held a workshop for the chronically ill I called STARS (Survivors Talking about Real Stories). But mostly the groups have been for people who need to process loss -- a death, a job, their good health, divorce, infertility, etc. Early on I learned the most powerful thing anyone can do is to actively listen. People need to be heard. They aren't there for a 'quick fix' -- most of the reasons they are there aren't fixable. They want to share their story in a safe nonjudgmental environment, with people who have also undergone their own sense of loss, and they want to be heard. For that people must carefully listen.

Too many people are surprisingly uncomfortable around people who are grieving. They don't know what to say; what to do. They are afraid of causing additional pain. Or they want to 'fix' it and help in some concrete way. There's really nothing that can change the circumstances. But that are things you can do - things that convey you care. Don't just write a note to 'call or write if there's anything I can do.' I don't know anyone who has taken someone up on this 'invitation.' For one thing, the onus in now on the sick or grieving -- or whatever -- person to call you up. People seldom want to impose or to feel they are seeking charity. Far better would be to write that you are going to call, and saying that 'when you have some time you want to take care of something they've had to put on hold that they'd like done, so be thinking of how you can help.' And then call and follow through. For example, it's been my fervent dream that I'll get some help in my disheveled yard. It still has fall leaves in it, for gawd's sake, and weeds choking perennials. Here are a few things off the top of my head that can be of tremendous help:

Errands. Going to the grocery. Fixing a meal (and please, deliver in containers you don't want returned, or now on top of all else, the person must now save and deliver back your dishes!). Walking their dog. Returning library books. Picking up dry-cleaning. Taking their kids out for pizza or a movie and giving them time alone. Replace burned out light bulbs or helping around the house for the elderly or infirm, like taking out garbage or bringing in wood and building a fire, sweeping a patio or doing some light chores. If bereaved, help make calls or write letters. I have been known to write obituaries for friends and family (I've written six so far). I will always remember one lovely friend who brought over a technician who gave us manicures and pedicures when I was house-bound for 18 months, and another who just pops by with dinners on occasion.....get the idea? You feel good at being helpful, they feel so relieved and cared for. It's a win-win, as a former boss liked to say (all too often).

I will write more on this subject in future posts, including a few platitudes I've collected over the years of things not to say. Most people don't want to be hurtful, and people realize that, but even though they realize the person may be a bit clueless, things still sting and are remembered...

11 comments:

Aleta said...

This was an incredibly helpful post. I'm one of those people who doesn't know what to say and feel helpless as to what to do to help someone in a loss type of situation. I find that I often times say the wrong things. I love the list that you provided for things to do. It's going in the memory banks! Thank you!

Candice said...

"Too many people are surprisingly uncomfortable around people who are grieving. They don't know what to say; what to do. They are afraid of causing additional pain. Or they want to 'fix' it and help in some concrete way."

This is so me! You've given some really great advice and ideas of things that I can do the next time I'm placed in this position.

By the way, how's this for something you should NEVER say. "Oh, Bob is in a much better place now."

Sorry, but that's not at all comforting to those who have lost a loved one no matter if it's well intended or not.

At least that's MY view on it. ;)

Chris said...

Careful, your wisdom is showing. Wonderful post. And like the rest, I'm too often guilty. But you know that.

e said...

Thank you for writing this! Now perhaps some people will be spared the stupidity and ignorance of friends who disappear, and other things.

I wish I had a group like yours here. I've tried finding a a referral to no avail.

Thanks for the heads up about damselfly. I now have an email link on my profile page if you ever want to e-mail.

Take care!

Bendigo said...

Great post...I think that sometimes our common sense flies out the window when we see our friends and family suffering...This is a good reminder to get a rope back around it...Thanks :)

Leslie said...

Having been both the recipient of and the person trying to help, your post is something I have thought over often and often. Good words, thanks.

Anne said...

Thanks for a very wise and helpful post!

zodiblog said...

This was a wonderful post Amy! I could have used your services in my 20’s when I lost both parents, and every relative that I was close to. They were all great-aunts and uncles. Unfortunately, I was an only child, as was my mother, so I only had my friends…but they did help.

I believe that most people in conversations (about anything) today only listen long enough to think of what they are going to say next. I’ve learned to almost meditate when having a deep conversation. I try to completely still my mind and listen from a place of deep presence and awareness. And it has had a profound effect on both my relationships and me personally.

Great post!

Dame Nuisance said...

Amen, amen, amen.

Annie @ astonesthrowfrominsanity said...

Wow! I am one of those people that always want to help, but never know exactly how. Thanks for the great list and insight! :)

Tam said...

What a fabulous post, and so true. Helping isn't always about doing, it's about being there. I wish for people like you in my life if things ever get really bad! And I swear, I think I've said this before, if I lived out there, I would be ALL OVER YOUR YARDWORK!!