It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is just a short two weeks away.  I’ve been glued to the images of devastation from Hurricane Sandy.  There is nothing so upsetting as a personal disaster, no matter what the event or form it takes.

You see, my fifties were a bleak decade.  I had the unthinkable happen.  My son died at 28 and then four years later my step-daughter died at 44.  In between these two events my husband got two cancers, both of which he survived, thankfully.

One of the results of that time is that I came to understand that our family and friends wanted to help but did not always know what would be most beneficial; most helpful and appreciated. I feel thankful that they surrounded us for a long time with extra TLC.  We were lucky.  They asked what we wanted, and when we had suggestions, most people responded in kind.

I am telling you this to illustrate my belief that all of us have stressful events happen – Maybe nothing as dramatic as a natural disaster, but events that we certainly don’t expect and aren’t ready for.  Maybe it’s divorce, death of a loved one, loss of a job or home, a prolonged illness or condition, a horrible accident or becoming a caregiver for a special needs person.

Whatever the situation, as a friend, we want to be helpful and reach out, but in many cases, we just don’t know how.  Unlike a natural disaster when we’re told that sending money is the most effective thing to do, most often that’s not the best solution with friends and family. So, not wanting to offend, many of us simply do nothing.

Back to my family — As our situation became easier and  life returned to some normalcy, people began calling and asking for advice about how best to support a friend, colleague or acquaintance going through a tough time – divorce, job loss, care taking a family member or the rigors of a tough diagnosis and treatment.

There’s nothing easy about these stresses, and as a culture, there is no road map for most of us about what is most helpful to people in our community, short term or prolonged.

So, I’ve decided to write about it, and I need your help.

I have a favor to ask.

I ask that you think about a stressful time in your life when people stepped forward in a meaningful and authentic manner to be supportive of you.

There are two questions to answer:

1. What mattered most to you?

Was it dinner brought to you, or those who offered to go to the doctor’s appointment and take notes?  Was it the person who waited a few weeks and called for a quiet walk and listened?  Was it the person who picked up your kids on a regular basis so you could have a break?

2.  What wasn’t helpful? 

For instance, one person told me that more often than not, when someone would tell her about a new expert to consult, chances were the contact information was incomplete, creating frustration and more work for her. The thought was certainly well-intentioned, but not well-communicated.

In these days before Thanksgiving and the coming holiday season, I ask that you take a few minutes and let me know your answers.

You can write them here in comments below or email them to me at [email protected] or call me directly at 206-842-8588.

I promise to keep all responses confidential.  The responses will be compiled and our collective wisdom will be used to help others and ourselves. Next week I’ll share the most thoughtful thing a friend did for us on Thanksgiving.

Learning how to respond to people in need in the most effective ways is a big gift to ourselves and our community.  I hope you’ll find the time to do it – now.  Also, please forward this blog to anyone who you think could contribute.

Thank you.

Remember, if I can do it, you can too.

Susan Levy
Publisher, Well-Fed Heart

This week’s featured recipe:

Susan’s Homemade Turkey Stock