1. Don’t do what is most convenient. After my friend, Deb’s house burned, her immediate need was for me to find temporary homes for her dogs, many of which were puppies and two pregnant mamas ready to deliver. I didn’t want to sit on the phone making a gazillion calls and arranging to place dogs, but I did it because that was what Deb needed. I got busy and made the calls and fostered a mama and a puppy even though our home wasn’t dog-friendly. It would have been easier to help in another way, but my effort met Deb’s need so she could focus on other important tasks.
Later, Deb’s dogs became a huge blessing to our family. We named the puppy we fostered Tempy (for temporary) to remind us we would have to give up the dog. When Tempy left, we adopted her mama, Stella, and another older puppy, Sarah, also refugee from the fire. Now, we can’t imagine our lives without them. A job that seemed annoying to me at the time ended up blessing Deb and our family.
2. Don’t allow busyness to prevent you from pausing to consider the needs of others. A resource shared with thoughtful consideration touches the wounded place of hurt and fills it with compassion. Consider how much time, money or talent you can give and then share it well. A thoughtless gift is like giving a vaccine without a syringe. If you give canned food without a can opener, plate, and a fork it will sit unopened. If you drop off a truck load of used clothing when there is no place to store it and no one to sort through it, though appreciated, it may turn into a burden.
3. Don’t assume your loved ones have support. Ask about immediate needs. Depending on the situation, you can offer your home as a refuge, offer to take care of children and/or pets, help sift through debris, attend meetings with them so they don’t have to go alone, make phone calls for them, etc.
4. Don’t say “Let me know how I can help.” Your distressed friend will probably say, “Okay, I’ll let you know,” but they won’t. Victims of disasters have so many needs, they may not know what to ask for. Try saying something like: I want to do something to help you. May I send you gift cards? May I take care of your children for you? What is your immediate need today? Suggesting a specific offer of support can be more helpful than a general one.
5. Avoid filling up your loved one’s message machine with voicemails asking for a return call. Feeling responsible to return calls and messages when unable to, causes stress. Instead, leave messages of encouragement with no expectations attached. Try saying something like: I’m here for you when you are ready. You don’t need to call me back. I’m thinking of you and praying for your family.
Don’t stop offering your support after the initial crisis. Your friend or loved one will need you when the media hype quiets and the disaster relief organizations leave. People are usually interested and helpful in the early days and weeks after a crisis and stop offering support after the initial hype. After a colossal disaster, help is needed months and even years after the event. Insist on giving support long after the crisis.