I had an interesting exchange with a family member a few weeks ago after I shared an image to my Instagram story. I can't remember what it said word for word but the overall theme of it was to stop telling people who are going through a difficult time how strong they are when they are just trying to survive.
Their take on it was that the ability to adapt and survive in times of turmoil IS strength. Not falling apart each day is strength. And they weren't wrong. I could absolutely understand their point of view. And based on their personality, it didn't surprise me that they had that stance.
*For the record, this exchange was respectful.*
What I was wanting to convey through sharing that message was that in those dark and difficult moments, for me, people telling me how strong I was wasn't helpful. It set this self-imposed expectation that I wasn't allowed to feel or show "weakness" aka I wasn't allowed to struggle.
Now, I will say that I know, without a doubt, that making me feel that way was never anyone's intention, but that's what happened. I know that people want to lift you up, help you feel good, and make you feel like you can handle anything. But god how I yearned for someone to just say, I see you're struggling and I'm here to help you. Full disclosure, if a stranger had said that to me I probably would have been insulted. But if someone in "my circle" had said that, it would have made me feel so seen and acknowledged.
So with that being said, here are 3 gestures that I believe are universally helpful to anyone going through a struggle:
1. Bring Food
Food is always helpful but can definitely be tricky. I remember so many people dropping off delicious suppers. Food is a universal language. It shows love. But it can also be overwhelming to have to store and eat all this food so that you don't feel like you are wasting it. There's only so many lasagnas that someone can eat in a row.
Actual groceries with easy to prepare foods, snacks, and drinks are never a bad idea.
Not sure of someone's preferences or dietary restrictions, ask them. Or purchase them a gift card to a local restaurant that they can use when they just don't feel like cooking. I remember someone calling and saying to me "I'm going to pick you up some groceries so you can either tell me the things your family likes or I can wing it."
2. Child Care (or pet care)
If the person you are looking to help has kids, take the kids! Plan a fun outing, take them for a meal, host a play date. One thing that I definitely lacked in prioritizing for myself was alone time. Alone time for myself and alone time for me and my husband, both so important when you are trying to heal from a trauma.
Something that I really strived for was keeping things as "normal" as possible for my kids. I was thankful that they still had school and daycare. I was so thankful for our family and friends who helped entertain them and keep them busy in those early days; true life savers.
3. Companionship (This one might be a bit trickier but helpful none the less)
Immediately after the incident, we were surrounded by our support system. And we always had, and continue to have, the best support system. But eventually everyone had to get on with their regular routines and we were still reeling.
I never expect to be someone else's priority. But it's so common after a trauma for everyone to rally together and then slowly go back to their own lives.
If you are looking to support someone who is experiencing grief or a trauma, be sure to keep checking in on them every so often. Bring over a coffee, drop off that book you had talked about, or just go sit and watch t.v. with them. While it's no one's intension, it's easy or someone dealing with trauma to feel like they've be left behind. Feeling lonely, even when you have a huge network of family and friends, is such a difficult feeling and so hard to explain to others.
Speaking strictly for myself, these three acts of kindness and love can make a huge impact on my day to day.
If you feel the pull to help and you aren't quite sure which help is the best help for them, ask the people closest to them.
Sometimes, people who are struggling don't want help. Sometimes, they want help but don't know how to ask for it. And other times, they feel guilty for wanting the help. It's tricky. It's tricky for the person struggling and it's tricky for the person wanting to help.
But if there is one big piece of advice I could give to someone wanting to help a friend or family member they see struggling (speaking strictly from my own experience), it's not to give up on them. Maybe they don't take you up on that offer to get groceries. Maybe they're gonna pass on that dog walk. But maybe the next time you call they'll say yes to that coffee drop off or Netflix binge.
Take care and be kind to each other,