A friend shared an experience recently. It was a story that many of us have heard or can relate to and speaks to the grace, courage and honesty that true service demands.
My friend was home from the hospital recovering from a very significant surgery. In real pain, overwhelmed by the time and energy that recovery was taking and carrying the massive mental burden of what treatment was to come next, my friend was doing far better than I would have been in that situation. And, they were tired, scared and unsure of what they really needed or wanted. Life seemed very, very full.
A knock at their door was both an unwelcome surprise and a gift. It was an acquaintance who had heard my friend was recovering at home and had arrived with a massive meal suitable for a royal coronation. The food was professionally prepared, bountiful and presented in a fashion that showed a genuine and authentic desire to let my friend know they were being thought of and cared for.
After inviting themselves in, proudly laying the food out and carefully explaining the time and effort that went into its preparation, the guest sat themselves down and complained about the drive getting there. Without missing a beat, they asked for a cold beer and spent the next three hours talking my friend’s ear off – right through and past the time they were to be sleeping as part of a strict recovery regime.
Clearly, we need to celebrate the good intentions of this chef/guest. Preparing and delivering a 3-course meal is one way to show others we care. And truth to told, an act like this is more focused on making us feel better rather than understanding what support looks like to the person we are ‘trying’ to help.
Food is a go-to for many of us in times when we want to help others and are not sure what else to do. Like you, I have prepared countless meals and shared them with others as a way to show them I care. And, if I am being completely honest, it feeds that uncontrollable scratch to reassure myself that I am doing something. That meal and its delivery are in service to helping the recipient AND reducing my confusion, guilt and discomfort about not knowing what else to do. Elsie would not be amused.
Having had the honour of walking alongside a number of families dealing with grief or illness (and making many mistakes along the way), I have gained a few insights about how to be of service in these unique times. These thoughts are my own reflections, are not perfect and continue to evolve with each experience. Let me know how we can make these ideas stronger in the comments.
Serving Others In Times of Crisis Or Grief
- START SMALL AND NEGATIVE BILL
What that means: Negative billing was perfected by the cable companies in the early 2000s (we are looking at you Rogers) as they added small services without telling customers and put the burden of saying ‘no’ back on the end user. What Service Leaders can learn from this practice is not to offer anything too big or fast and to make the decline as easy as possible.
This could sound like: I am going to drop off a meal for you on Thursday after 3 and before 5. You can use it that night or it will be ready to put into the freezer. Any food allergies I should be aware of? If I can bring anything else with me to lighten your load just ask.
My goal: make their decision-making as easy as possible.
- BE AVAILABLE
What that means: Make time and a brave space before offering anything else. This is the hardest step for me as it asks us to slow down and demands we use our listening skills and be prepared to receive and not act. My temptation (as a male and high i DiSC style) is to think immediately about solutions. I am working on channelling those energies to remind myself that a conversation can be just as important as solving a food-related need.
This could sound like: I just heard your favourite song and wanted to say hi and let you know I am thinking about you. Would a chat help or is quiet what you need now?
My goal: Offer nothing more than being present. Let them guide what happens next.
- CHECK IN. OFTEN & QUICKLY.
What that means: As you continue to step into service and perhaps take on more responsibility, use micro check-ins to guide your next steps.
This could sound like: I am going to keep dropping off meals on Thursdays and will ask Raya to do so on Wednesdays for the next month. I’ll share with them your food likes and dislikes and will leave a cooler at your front door so they can just drop it off without having to knock. Is that OK? Let me know if you need a hand with the garden/rides/chores. There are lots of people who would be happy to help out.
My goal: be in service to anticipating needs, show that my support is authentic and is ultimately being guided by them.
True service in times of crisis means that we really listen to Elsie’s wisdom and make sure that the time and energy we are putting into helping others is focused on what they really need, not what we imagine (or want it to be). Asking for a cold beer after being of service to others isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, that can be part of how we recharge for the next. It’s just important we do that in our own living room and on our own time.
A Practical tip:
If you find yourself looking to organize meals or day-to-day support for a friend or family for any length of time, be sure to check out MealTrain.com It is free (or ridiculously cheap) and gives you incredible organization and communication reach, allowing you to connect many people at once. It is an excellent solution to the ‘how can I help’ question. Simply send out a link! Ask the team at MealTrain to turn off the ‘buy a gift certificate’ option. With those ads out of the way, it is the perfect tool to help you coordinate real, effective and meaningful service to those in need.