How to help when tragedy strikes

Yesterday in Connecticut the world experienced a horrific tragedy: the loss of children.  These are little people who may have gone on to change the world, and their tiny lives have been snuffed out by a man full of evil.  When things like this happen, we all hurt, but what can you do?  You can pray, you can donate funds to help the families with expenses (there will be many), you can send cards/letters of support, or help support a memorial for the victims.   …all of those things will help.

What do you do when it strikes closer to home?

We all know someone, or will know someone who experiences something horrific in their lives: the loss of a parent, spouse or child, and nothing is more devastating.   What do you do?  How can you help?  You don’t know what to say, so you throw out a vague “I am so sorry!  …call if you need anything.” Then you stand awkwardly aside while your friend bumbles through their grief, because the reality is there is nothing you can do to take that pain away.

Now for the good news:  You Can Help!!

With any sudden loss, your life gets thrown into chaos.  Many times someone in the throes of grief and shock doesn’t know what kind of help they need, and if they do, they are hesitant to burden others by asking for help.  Here is a list of ways you might be able to help, some cost a little bit of money, and some cost nothing but your time.

  • Babysit.  Can you watch a couple of kids for a few hours to give both the parents and the kids a break?  Parents have things to deal with, phone calls to make, and tears to shed.  Kids need a chance to be kids: pop in a movie, make some popcorn and provide some much-needed attention.
  • Walk the dog.  Or offer to keep fluffy for a few days if that is a feasible option for your living situation.
  • Offer to be a point-of-contact for updates: there may be a million friends/relatives calling for updates, and that can be hard for the grieving individual to deal with.
  • Mow the lawn, trim the hedges, take out the trash, sweep the porch or whatever outside chores need to be done: there will be a lot of visitors in the days to come and those outside things will probably slide for a bit.
  • Pick up/drop off kids for school/sports/church if you have time or are headed that way.
  • Paper products: seriously.  There will be a zillion visitors.  Things like extra tissues (get the good kind!), paper towels, paper plates, coffee cups, plastic forks/spoons, toilet tissue and guest towels are all helpful items.
  • Food.  Not just meals for the family, but consider trays of finger foods for the visitors.  Cookies, veggie trays, crackers, cheeses, grapes, etc…   For the family, consider meals that will not leave leftovers, delivered in disposable containers.  Healthy meals with plenty of fresh produce will be greatly appreciated.  (Make sure you ask about food allergies and label your meals with every single ingredient!!!)
  • Gift cards: gas, groceries, coffee, spa (who couldn’t use a massage during this time?) pet boarding, movie theaters, etc… There will be a lot of extra expenses for the family, so if you are financially able, any gifts will be appreciated.

While this is a challenging time for everyone, please be there for your friends and family.  Even if you don’t know what to say, it is ok to say “I really want to be here for you, but I don’t know what to say.”  In a time of need, being there means more than saying pretty words.  Offer to pray with/for them, offer your physical assistance and offer your quiet companionship.

Don’t take it personally if you are rebuffed: emotions are running high and there is a lot going on.  Don’t give up, just step back, let them know you are ready and willing to help, then check back in in a day or two.  Continue to love them and remember this will take time for them to recover and develop a sense of normalcy.


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