My sister-in-law Susan, is a young widow of a year and a half. She is outside trying to stay ahead of the fat, heavy snow that is falling fast and piling up faster. She struggles on her own to shovel her walkway with an injured back, when a neighbor and his young son walk up, with shovels in hand.
“Can we help?” asks the little boy.
The father gently corrects him. “No son, remember, that’s not what we say. We say “We’re here to help!”
What a brilliant shift!
If someone says, “Can we help?” what’s our go-to response? “Oh no, that’s ok.” Right?
But in the face of an enthusiastic “We’re here to help!” it becomes a community activity.
It’s fascinating to me how little tweaks in what we say can make a big difference.
Most of us have had someone ask “How are you doing?” in a season when we want to hurl things at them and scream “I’M A HOT MESS OF PAIN HERE AND WANT TO DIE, CAN’T YOU SEE THAT???” However, it’s so natural, we ALL ask the question without thinking about it. When you know people are going through a hard time, consider alternatives like:
- “I’m so glad to see you (or to hear your voice).” Then stop and just listen.
- “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you, but I’d like to better understand what you’re going through.”
- “I love you.”
- Give them a hug and say, “I’m here. I can’t imagine what this is like for you, but I’d love to take a walk and listen.”
- “What’s on your plate for today?” Often if you ask people what they’re doing, they’ll tell you how they’re feeling.
- After someone dies, over the long-haul when others have stopped asking, say “What do you miss most about ________?”
And sometimes it’s not the words, but the silence that matters.
I’ve written before on some other practical suggestions, and if you want a terrific book on this, check out What Grieving People Wish You Knew about what really helps (and what really hurts”).