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10 Things You Can Do for Families Who are Hurting

One of my most vivid childhood memories is trudging through the snow to bring a meal to an elderly couple in our neighborhood. Sometimes, if they were up for it, they’d invite me in and insist on an impromptu piano recital. I’d sit on that ancient, padded bench and play my best Für Elise, knowing I’d be rewarded with a lollipop or a roll of pennies.

While I’ve held onto my child’s eye view of that experience— the cold of the snow, the weight of the Tupperware containers in my mittened hands— it’s only since becoming a mother that I truly understand its value. We were doing what we could in a neighbor’s time of need.

Everywhere I look, it seems that there are families who are hurting. It’s not limited to grieving families on my television screen, either— there are friends and neighbors and online acquaintances who are suffering unimaginable loss. It’s a helpless feeling to know of others’ pain and to not know what to do to ease it.

Recently I spoke to a friend who was recovering from major surgery. Since our children are the same ages, I could only imagine the toll her recovery was taking on the family. I explained that I wanted to help, and to my surprise she told me a specific way that I could. I was grateful. I realized how rare that is; it was a gift to me to be able to help in some way.

Is there a family in your life that you’d like to help out? Maybe they’re grieving the loss of a loved one, maybe there’s an extended illness in their home, or perhaps a recent job loss has caused chronic financial and emotional stress. Here are 10 ways you can offer your support.

Have something to add? Please leave your ideas in the comments!

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  • Show Up 1 of 10
    Show Up
    Sometimes the most important thing you can do is just to be there. If you don't know what to say, just listen.
  • Practice Active Listening 2 of 10
    Practice Active Listening
    Active listening requires understanding, empathizing, encouraging, and finally reflecting back what you've heard. It's important because it allows the person who is in pain to know that he or she has been heard and acknowledged.
  • Bring a Meal 3 of 10
    Bring a Meal
    Providing a meal to a family does two things: it takes away a common source of stress when there's no time or energy for cooking, and it offers comfort at the same time. It doesn't have to be anything fancy (now is not the time for gourmet meals!). Don't know what to bring? Try a simple casserole, a bag of pre-mixed salad, and frozen breadsticks.
  • Ask What they Need 4 of 10
    Ask What they Need
    It sounds obvious, but in many cases hurting families are acutely aware of their needs but are embarrassed to ask. It can be as simple as picking children up from school, running a quick errand, or feeding pets.
  • Send a Card 5 of 10
    Send a Card
    Let the family know they're in your thoughts. Sometimes there isn't much to actually do in these cases, so sending comforting words can be the best option of all.
  • Organize Friends 6 of 10
    Organize Friends
    If you're aware of a specific need, such as financial assistance or regular meals, quietly organize friends to meet it. Plan a fundraiser or just collect contributions, or develop a schedule for bringing in meals. Others will also be happy to help!
  • Don’t Say You Know How They Feel 7 of 10
    Don't Say You Know How They Feel
    Everyone's situation is different. While you may have good intentions, it can leave the wrong impression or even serve to minimize another's feelings. Instead, just offer sympathy and listen.
  • Help with Childcare 8 of 10
    Help with Childcare
    For many families, working out childcare can be a daunting task even when all is well. Add illness or another stress and it can easily become overwhelming. Offer to take children to and from school, or to babysit. This can be among the most helpful things you can do.
  • Avoid Assumptions 9 of 10
    Avoid Assumptions
    People find comfort in different places. Don't assume that what works for you will work for them. This is especially true when it comes to religious beliefs.
  • Be There As Time Passes 10 of 10
    Be There As Time Passes
    Pain takes a long time to heal. Be there even when the events surrounding the pain (a funeral, for example) are over.

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