family in crisis

How to Help When a Family is in Crisis

family in crisiHelping families in Crisis.

Recently, we had an influx of visitors in our home because a family member was being treated for burns following a helicopter crash. So many people stepped up to the plate to help, and the simple things they did made life easier for all of us. This was not the first or the only time folks have lent a hand. We experienced caring during the time of Mom Slabach’s journey with cancer, following the time Dave shattered his heels, and when he was recovering from a heart attack. When each of our half dozen was born, we received help in various ways. The idea to do this post came from our recent experience, but I’ve incorporated things that were helpful (or would have been helpful) other times as well. 

No matter what the situation, families in crisis can use help to get them through difficult days. In most instances, the things we can do to help are the same. Whether there is an illness, a death, a fire, a move, or another difficulty, there are things families need. As believers, we should be willing to help bear the burden of those we know and even those we hardly know. There is always something you can do. If you can’t figure out how to help, ask someone who knows. Sometimes people use the excuse that they don’t know what to do when they really just don’t want to help. Tell me it ain’t so!

Ways to Help

Financial. When families need to travel to and from a hospital, a second home, or have extra people living with them, they can use cash flow. The cost of simple necessities for items such as gas or food can accumulate quickly. Hospital or funeral home bills are not usually expected and can bring a crunch to an already tight budget.

If you don’t want to give cash, you can provide gift cards for gas and groceries; you can make a contribution at the funeral home or make a payment on an electric bill. There’s always a way to give financially without shelling out cash. Consider giving through a church if you want your donation to be anonymous and want to use it as a tax write-off.

Food. When there’s an influx of family or visitors in a home, there’s a need for more food. Consider that most folks will bring what is easy: desserts and carbs. Think about what you’d like if you were the one in the kitchen: a vegetable tray of fresh, colorful vegetables; individual yogurt cups (because all you need is a spoon and a trash can); finger jello for kiddos in the house; lunch meat and cheese for quick sandwiches; a dish that can be frozen and baked later. Find out what family members like or if they have allergies before you purchase food.

If you have more money than time, consider gift cards to local places for pizza, chicken, or subs. Offer to bring KFC a few days ahead and find out how many people will be there to help eat it. Consider special needs of the folks you are serving: are there older folks, young children, or folks with medical issues such as diabetes? Then bring food accordingly. Throw in some balloons, Popsicles, gum, or a small toy to show kiddos in the home that you care.

Living Supplies. When there’s an increase in folks in a home, there’s a need for paper supplies. Toilet paper, paper towels, and trash bags are items that will never go to waste. One friend brought a hefty supply of sturdy bowls, dessert plates, and large dinner plates. Disposable plates, cups, and silverware saved the day and the dishwasher, and I didn’t feel guilty because I hadn’t paid for them!

Ice. If there is no ice maker in the home or if the ice maker can’t keep up with demand, bring a cooler of ice. Keep it filled daily or every other day so family members don’t need to. 

Maintenance. When there are visitors in and out of the house daily, there’s an increase in dirt and clutter. Offer to stop in one day to help tidy the house. We had a television crew coming for an interview one morning. A cousin stopped in and asked what she could do to help. She tidied bathrooms and swept floors, leaving me free to take care of the patient’s burns.

The more folks in the house, the more trash accumulated. Somebody needs to take care of that trash. Let that somebody be you. Stop by and pick up a load while you’re on your way to the dump yourself. 

Dust on the mantle might not bother you, but it just might be what is bugging the person in duress. Ask what you can do that she would do if she had the time – then do it. Does the yard need to be mowed? Offer your services. Is there a vehicle with an expired inspection? Expired dog dags? Offer to do the leg work necessary. 

When my brother-in-law died suddenly, a casual friend stopped in the day before we headed north for the visitation and funeral. Had she called ahead, I would have told her I didn’t need anything. But she showed up unannounced, took the vacuum from my hands, and told me to find something else to do while she finished vacuuming. Twenty-one years later, I still remember her service as a ministry to my heart. She didn’t tell me she cared. She showed me.

Seasonal needs include snow removal, leaf blowing, mulching for flower beds, and weeding a garden or flower beds. Look for things unattended: a bird feeder that is empty (if the family has a bird feeder, then birds are important to them even if they are not to you). Buy bird feed and fill that feeder.

Does the family vehicle need a good washing? Are there windows smudged from so many extra little fingers in the house? Is there something that needs to be returned to the store? Are there medical supplies or a few groceries needed from town? Call before you drop in to visit to see if there’s anything you can pick up to brighten the day. A few weeks after the birth of our second child when I was not allowed to drive, a neighbor called; she was heading to town. Did I need wet wipes? Milk? Pads? Tylenol? Yes, I did. She dropped off a gallon of milk and saved the day.

Listen. Doing is so important – it is what keeps the wheels moving smoothly. Listening is important, too. Take time to visit with those bearing the burden. Hear them out if they want to talk, even if you’ve heard it a hundred times before. Take time to just sit in silence if you sense that is what a person needs.

Invest in giving attention. Oftentimes, the small and insignificant are left out because the adults are busy with the urgent. If there are small children, offer to take them out for a meal and visit a playground. Bring new play dough or another toy or game to the house and play with the kiddos. Read to little ones; tell a story to older ones. When there’s a new baby in the house, siblings will feel special when the attention is on them and not the newborn! Sometimes older ones feel left out. A spouse might feel inept at caring for his life-mate while his younger children take over care. Does he need someone to talk to? Does he feel alone? 

Faith. You and I cannot graft our faith onto someone else. Yet we can live it and share it – either by a card or note of encouragement, sharing a few verses of Scripture, and by praying. Many times duress makes it hard to focus. During those times, a cup of water is enough. We don’t need to give fuel for the next week when all the person can handle is enough for the moment. Share one verse of scripture, grab a hand and breathe a two-sentence prayer if that is all your friend has time for that day.

families in crisisGiving a Cup of Water

There are so many ways to give a cup of water in the name of Christ. Each of us has gifting that can help others. Sometimes we don’t help because we’re not sure how to help. That is selfish, and it is wrong. If we truly want to help, we will find a way. 

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