How to Remain Supportive Long After a Major Life Event Unfolds
I can speak from the experience and perspective of life events over the last few years alone which were, one by one, equally joyous as they were tragic: the birth of a child, multiple life-saving surgeries, a death in the family, and the diagnosis of a chronic illness. These events had such an effect on my overall well being that with every additional hurdle, I became more and more dependent on the help of others to get through. And every time, luckily, I was the recipient of what felt like an unconditional outpouring of support and thoughtfulness.
It seems that when a major life event unfolds for someone, everyone around that person is well trained for the rescue effort. The news usually spreads like wildfire, and a team of people mobilizes itself to make phone calls, cook meals, send flowers and cards. Friends, and even some strangers, reach out to share their knowledge, offer their help and quite literally build a safety net around you to keep you afloat. It is a wonderful testament to the human spirit.
But, something curious happens after a few months have passed and what was once recognized as a major life event, begins to drift off into the past. While it is a known fact that by helping others, both the giver and the receiver will benefit, somehow the dynamic starts to suffer over time. On the one hand, you have the individual, who in the process of trying to restore a life balance continues to find himself depleted and unequipped to cope. On the other hand, you have the support network, which on a whole, begins to disband because on the surface, the work appears completed. In their eyes the reality is that, pardon the cliche, life goes on.
The Importance of Timing is Everything When Someone Needs Support
If you are still puzzled about my dilemma, please read on. I think you will agree that certain life events, and definitely if in combination with others, take a lot longer to resolve than a few months. They require ongoing attention and work before they can truly be put behind us. So why is it that we are prone to enable the individual with an avalanche of love and practical help at the onset, only to back off when the struggle continues to remain a struggle? Timing, and perhaps a little experience, is obviously of the essence here.
Everyday analogies of this phenomenon might help bring the disparity to life. On the giving end, for example, most of us can relate to the idea of buying a present for a newborn. Before I had my own children, I would immediately gravitate to the cute little onesies and sleepers that were labeled for 0-3 months. I would send them on their way before the announcement officially hit the mailbox, so to properly express our excitement and congratulations for the new life which had been born.
Today, I feel I know better. If I don't stay away from clothes altogether because new parents seem to get inundated with them, I always buy an outfit that is sized for at least 6-12 months out. Not only will it get more use later as growth begins to slow, but it also seems to be more practical if it will fit when most other things are outgrown and the presents stopped coming. And I usually wait to get in contact with a gift for a few weeks so as to add a little joy to the days when the routine has started to settle in. Better yet, what about the idea of getting a gift for the new Mom instead who is undergoing a tremendous amount of change and is adjusting to a new life as well? Just a thought.
If the first analogy did not hit home, consider another example on the receiving end: the infamous meal delivery rotation. A huge, and very much appreciated, help especially when time is of the essence and simple tasks become enormous chores. Nothing seems more relaxing and invigorating than gathering for a home cooked meal at the end of what was surely a jam packed day. Never mind the importance of fueling your body when the situation around you is high on stress. It's an absolute must.
The reality about some of the meals which miraculously appeared at our front door, however, was that they were more like feasts. Inclusive of appetizers and desserts, we had more food than anyone would be able to finish in one sitting. Sometimes they even included a separate, more kid-friendly, choice. So gracious and so generous. We felt like we got the royal treatment, until the day came to clear the fridge of left-overs and, say it ain't so, the meals stopped coming. Wouldn't it be nice to space out the meals over a couple of months, perhaps throw in a gift card for an unexpected night when getting food on the table seems impossible? Or better yet, randomly invite someone out for a meal, thereby filling the need for social interaction and getting pampered at the same time.
I think the lesson is clear. Timing is everything and by pacing yourself and others, the benefits of giving and receiving can be restored to last a 'lifetime'.
Thoughtful Support Speaks Louder Than a Huge Pricetag
One of my most favorite gifts when the going got tough around our house came to me in the shape of a wishbone from a real Thanksgiving turkey dinner. My gratitude, to this day, for this particular gift is filled with emotion and is endless in scope. And here is why I will never forget:
- It is priceless: it literally can't be bought anywhere except as part of a turkey
- It is unique: it speaks volumes to the amount of effort that went into getting it
- It is symbolic: for the good luck I needed to get me through the toughest of times
- It is thoughtful: it was carefully chosen with the recipient and the situation in mind
- It is timeless: I have since received two more and am building my personal collection
Let yourself feel inspired to find something similar that fits your story. I know I have.
Ideas That Lend Support and Keep Giving
Remaining supportive long after a major life event unfolds is important because, over time, the love and support of family and friends becomes more crucial than ever. Being there and being available so as to let someone else know he or she is not alone is a key ingredient to healing. This was as important yesterday as it is today and as it will be tomorrow. Truly. Being a friend who is both consistent and reliable over time can make a world of difference in someone else's life.
Out of ideas? Try one of the following to get you started:
- Daily or weekly phone calls: especially during holidays and special days, nighttime and weekends to help deal with loneliness
- Invitations for lunch, dinner or a cup of coffee: both for companionship and the beauty of feeling pampered
- Little yet thoughtful gifts: a delivery of frozen soup to warm your soul when it seems too much to cook a meal; gift certificates for a relaxing foot massage or pedicure; home baked goods make just about everyone happy
- Being a good listener: without passing judgement and without time limits because talking eases emotional pain and tension
- Babysitting: to build in a break and recharge so you can move on with patience and strength
- Frequent visits: because filling your home with life and laughter is contagious
- Making a donation in honor of a cause or a loved one: to show your understanding and concern for the situation at hand
- Helping with everyday tasks: aimed at reducing the work load of the individual who feels overwhelmed
- Encouraging exercise: to recharge your body and clear your mind; best if done regularly and with a friend
- Letting others cry: to release the pain, anxiety or worry that is otherwise so destructive to the healing process
- Giving a hug: speaks more than words and provides a real sense of safety
- Being mindful with your compliments: understanding that if someone looks great on the outside does not necessarily mean that they feel well on the inside
- Planning for the future: suggest taking a class together, organizing a trip, job hunting - anything that allows someone to look ahead with optimism
A Dedication to my Mother
I dedicate this piece to my mother, who lost my father and her husband of 44 years just four months ago, under incredibly difficult circumstances. I write in her honor because she is the epidemy of strength and perseverance, living most of her life helping others. Today, she is left to pick up the pieces and start over, and as it seems, the biggest part of her struggle has just begun.