Several things have happened in the last couple of months that led me to think about this. A good friend was sent home from the hospital on Hospice care, which means he had little time left to live. That was the precipitating event that started me thinking about this topic of specificity.
Have you ever lost a loved one, and well-meaning people say, “Let me know if you need anything,” or “I’m here if you need me,” or something of that ilk? Maybe you’ve even said something like that to someone. You probably really meant it, too. When people who are grieving hear that, they are too overwhelmed with emotion at the time to respond with anything more than, “Thank you.” And they really mean that too. But what do they need? They usually don’t know. And even if they DO know, they might not know exactly what you mean by “ANYTHING”.
When I was a new widow, I was in the position of hearing “Let me know if you need anything,” many times just before and during Keith’s funeral. I’m sure those people really, really meant it, too. But what did I need? I didn’t know. In retrospect, I needed someone to come clean my house, which had been neglected for months during Keith’s illness. I needed someone to bring me some firewood for the fireplace, since I had used most of what I had. For that matter, I needed someone to clean the ashes out of the fireplace. I had food in the freezer, but didn’t have the energy to thaw it and cook it. It would have been nice if someone had come over and done a couple of loads of laundry. I needed someone to go get milk and bread and coffee – all of which was gone/depleted. But I couldn’t think of any of that at the time.
It didn’t occur to me until after Keith’s death that I literally(and I mean LITERALLY, not figuratively for you grammar nerds) hadn’t had a break in over 2 months, and was physically and emotionally exhausted. During the last month, I needed someone to say, “I’ll come over and sit with him for several hours and let you sleep, or shop, or sit outside and read, or visit a friend.” I just didn’t know who or how to ask for that kind of help. Everyone was just, “Let me know if you need anything.” I didn’t think of that at the time. And probably wouldn’t have asked if I HAD thought of it. But if anyone had offered, I gladly would have jumped right on it!
Pardon me for spending so much space on ME and MY thoughts, but I’m the only one whose thoughts I can really know for sure, and it is directly related to the topic.
So anyway, I wanted to let my dying friend know that I cared about him, and that there were specific things I could do for him during his last days. So I wrote him a note, telling him that I knew he was sad and disappointed that the treatment he hoped for hadn’t happened. I told him that I was available any time of the day or night, and that I could read to him, talk to him, listen to him, pray with him, or just sit with him in silence and hold his hand. I could prepare meals for him, watch TV with him, wash dishes or clean house for him. I could write notes to his pals and mail them for him. I reminded him that I’m a nurse too, and I could also use those skills to help with medications, back rubs, phoning doctors, and changing bed linens. I’m just a phone call away.
So think about this: Instead of offering to do “anything” for someone, think about specific things to offer. Or if it is a close friend, just show up with food, an emery board and hand lotion, and a willingness to see for yourself if there are dishes in the sink or clothes in the hamper.