“Let me know if you need anything.” It’s the universal — often well-intentioned — response we give when someone loses a loved one, suffers tremendous grief, goes through a breakup, has a bad day, is a new colleague at work, or lands anywhere on the spectrum of life’s wide-ranging experiences.
Sure, we mean well. But the truth is we fall short. Now, before you start feeling some kind of way about what I said, notice I said we. We try to fill the silence of uncertainty and our loss for words with something that acknowledges the pain others feel while also making ourselves useful.
In the absence of truly knowing what to say, we say what comes naturally: Let me know if you need anything.
Unintentionally, we shift the onus on the hurting and grieving individual to find the language to not only identify what’s lacking but to then coherently explain to us how to help them fix what’s broken. By no means am I saying you should never ask someone what they need. What I'm saying is let's be more intentional. Ask how can you support at this time and/or follow up with ways you can support. Keep scrolling to read my thoughts on the latter approach.
The challenge is we humans, particularly adult humans, are horrible at articulating what we need let alone the fact that we actually need help at all.
• We don’t want to bother anyone.
• We don’t want people all up in our business.
• What we need might exceed what others can give.
• Fear of rejection.
• Savior mentality.
• Concern about what others might think.
• We don’t know how to ask for help.
• There’s no time to think about what we need, only time to react to what we’re facing.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of reasons. But with these and other things at play, can’t you see why the common response to the classic “let me know if you need anything” is usually a thank you and then radio silence from the very person we want to support?
So what can we do instead?
Well, everyone is different. For some people, space and time are forms of support. Use wisdom and hear from God while considering potential ways to be there for others. Think about the gifts and talents you have and how they can bless others. And when you tell people you’re praying for them, actually do it! Prayer is powerful.
Let the person know that you want to support them and what you can do. Some things will require a response and the go-ahead to move forward. But other things, such as sending cash to buy dinner or covering the cost of cleaners to keep the house in order, have never been rejected in my experience. Depending on your relationship with the person you’d like to support, here are some ways to consider lending your hands and your heart.
Supporting someone who lost a loved one
1. Offer to write, review or edit an obituary. As a writer and an empath, I was so moved and honored to support dear friends by writing obits about their parents. I could throw myself into a meaningful effort that directly supported and lifted a weight from those I love. This past year I lost one of my best friends. Our mutual friend wrote a moving and beautiful obituary. I was able to edit it.
2. You don’t write? Offer to lay out the program, set up a Zoom or gather photos if they are needed for a funeral service. You can even manage the Zoom chat to welcome guests attending the homegoing service online.
3. Make calls where needed. Can you help coordinate with the funeral home, family members, or any logistics that would free up the family?
4. Check in. For those who lost a loved one months or even years ago, a simple “I’m thinking of you” can go a long way. I’ve even started text messages by saying, “No need to respond, just want you to know I love you and am praying for you.” For close friends, you can even save sensitive dates and anniversaries on your phone calendar so you can be extra attentive and supportive during those times.
Supporting someone experiencing a life event or crisis
1. Offer to babysit. I know these COVID times make this a tough offer, but if there is a safe way to lend this type of support, this could be a huge relief for families. Plant and pet sitting are also great ways to help, especially if the person you’re supporting needs to travel or be away from home often.
2. Send a playlist. I’m a Spotify girl. I have songs for days. I have a go-to worship song that got me through one of the toughest crises I’ve endured, so I often share that. But a nice playlist with 8-10 songs could be the blessing that gets the ones you love through their darkest hours. (Here’s a link to one of my eclectic praise/worship playlists.)
3. Offer to do a grocery store run or other errands. Maybe that means picking up kids from school, taking out trash if you’re nearby or mowing the lawn.
Supporting someone through a breakup
1. Send a care package with their favorite things! You can deliver it if you’re nearby or send it via mail. Etsy, Amazon and local vendors offer all kinds of goodies to send.
2. Remind them who they are. I know I can be extra in this area, but you know the right dose of pep talk and kind words to shower them with.
3. Invite them to do activities offline, the type that will keep them off their phones and away from doom scrolling. Maybe a walk, bike ride, picnic or another COVID-safe activity.
Supporting loved ones in every season
1. Send money. You can’t go wrong. Even if they are balling out of control, a $5 Starbucks gift card says more than you’ll know. It says I’m thinking of you and want to treat you to something nice.
2. Put a reminder in your phone to check on your people. Life gets busy, but even sending a short text or voice note can brighten someone’s day.
3. Listen. Your ear, your time and your attention are invaluable. Creating safe spaces where the ones we love are heard, seen and valued can make all the difference.
Last, but certainly not least, a handwritten note is a keepsake that people can read again and again to build their strength and support them through the highs and lows of life. This is the heart and soul of Using Words For Good. Here are three cards I specifically designed for tough times. (You can view the full product line and purchase them here.)
Your words carry weight, so why not use them for good and let people know how you will support them.