“What can I do to help?” “is there something I can do?” could be useless questions

When we are confronted in our daily lives by those who we see suffering, especially during a tragedy or what feels like one to them, we want to help. We often say to the person “What can I do to help?” and that’s a beautiful question to ask except for one thing. The person who is despondent in their sadness is unable to think of anything. They might be bombarded by kind and well meaning people who keep offering such comments, but truly, when we are in the midst of this kind of sadness and shock, the hardest thing we could do would be to ask someone for something helpful. Think of the last time you were really suffering. Very kind and loving friends may have spoken those same words, and they are kind words. But you’re unable to even think of anything that could be helpful. You are immersed in your sadness.

So if you really mean what you say when you speak those words, it would likely be even more helpful to offer something specific. Here might be some examples of what you might offer or do.

1. Could I drop over a dinner? Could I order you pizzas tonight? The person might have no appetite but when the food is in front of them, they might be tempted. Or drop off some freshly baked cookies. Or a dried fruit and nut tray or basket. That way you know it doesn’t have to be eaten right away.

2. Could I come over tonight and just answer your phones for you? Or are there any calls you’d like me to make for you?

3. Send anything. Sending flowers from a flower delivery service can be crazy expensive, but I can go to Home Depot and buy a beautiful Orchid plant for $15 that would cost me $75 to send from a florist. Just drop it off at the house.

4. What about sharing a favorite book, especially if it’s one you have read and are passing on that helped you through a hard time? Maybe include a note about what you found most helpful, or mark pages with “this section really connected for me, I hope it helps you heal.” This is an inexpensive and very thoughtful thing to do for someone in pain.

5. Could I come over and help you compile a list of thank you notes you want to write later? Or could I come over and help you write or address them? A favorite memory I have is of my grandmother, she wrote new years notes every year and because she didn’t write well, she had me write them for her. Sometimes I would help make suggestions of what to write or how to say it. The last thing anyone dealing with grief wants to do is write those notes, What a kind gesture that would be!

Perhaps you can come up with other things you may have done, or that someone has done for you when you have dealt with trying times. The kindnesses, the way we reach out and help each other through such times can be truly healing. Be careful of the words you use, so you don’t cause more pain for the person. Try to avoid platitudes or comments involving religious beliefs the person may not share with you. Try to be more thoughtful about who it is you are talking to. If you don’t really feel like offering any help, then don’t just say “is there something I can do?” If you really are only offering your acknowledge of their sadness, say so. Say “I’m sorry for your loss, I know this is a very hard time and very difficult for you” and stop at that. Think before you speak. Some very painful moments occur when people think they’re helping but actually cause more hurt.

“What can I do to help?” “is there something I can do?” could be useless questions

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