Most of us have been there: being the closest (or caring-est) supporter to a loved one in crisis. And the most memorable thing about these experiences? That choking sense of helplessness. “No matter what I do, I feel like I’m making things worse.”
Well-intended actions can indeed make things worse. Believe me, I know! But since founding Hopebox I’ve learned time and again that a bit of self-awareness and a healthy respect for the potential pitfalls of being a supporter go a long way.
5 Essential Tips to Helping a Loved One through a Crisis
1. Show Up.
“Let me know if I can do anything for you.”
Newsflash: they won’t. A loved one in crisis doesn’t need a lukewarm invitation, they need a loving invasion.
Get in there. Show up. Start cleaning something. Tell lame jokes. Make some tea. And if you can’t show up in person, there are other ways to show you’re “there” in spirit and you’re not going anywhere any time soon.
Now of course there are occasional times when you’ll hear “I want to be left alone,” and by all means honor their request. But our default setting ought to always be a gentle invasion of loving presence.
2. Love Simply.
Would you believe most of the impactful Hopebox notes we see are less than 10 words long?
“This next year is gonna be hard, but I’m here.”
“Hang on. One. More. Day.”
“Cancer doesn’t know who she’s messing with. Fight, girl.”
It doesn’t take a degree in counseling or psychology or theology to love someone. In fact, the more we TRY to play the professional role, the LESS love we bring to the situation. Simple love loves simply.
3. NAY: Not About You.
Once again, self-awareness is key. It’s essential to catch yourself when you feel like saying, “When such-and-such happened to me” or “Reminds me when…”.
N-A-Y: Not About You.
Your loved one may indeed be going through something similar to what you once did. And those shared experiences can be invaluable to helping you support them. But instead of telling them about it, consider using that experience to reflect a bit deeper than most people do: “Knowing what I know about that hardship, what does she need most from me right now?” The simple act of remembering NAY usually does the trick.
It doesn’t have to be a hopebox. Give something, anything, no matter how small your budget. The point isn’t the comforter-to-comforted conveyance of stuff, but rather the tangible caring the gift represents. Your gift leaves your loved one an insistent reminder that you care.
Does she like baths? Bath bombs. Skin care? Organic hand balm. Fragrances? Lavender eye pillow. Just a simple gift that engages the senses and leaves behind a reminder of your enduring support.
5. Stay In.
Empathy doesn’t last long. Most people’s concern dissipates within a few days.
Not you. Keep showing up, keep loving simply, and keep giving at regular intervals throughout (and AFTER!) the hardship. A crisis and its effects usually linger long after friends and loved ones have moved on with their lives. Be the exception!
In the example of a friend who has lost a close loved one, a rough calendar of support may look as follows:
- SAME DAY: In-person visit (if possible) and quiet presence
- DAY 2: Comforting gift and listening conversation/call
- Day 4: Surprise visit or call, more listening
- Week 2: Surprise visit to do house work or small gift delivery
- Week 3: Funny (but not too funny) card with a handwritten note of support
- Months 2-6: Call on the monthly anniversary of the loss
- Special holidays: Thoughtful gift that fondly honors the loved one lost by name
- Year anniversary: In-person visit (if possible), meal, and stay for as long as they need