If you want to help someone who lost their home in a fire, here’s what I learned when it happened to me:

#1) DO NOT ASK THEM TO TELL YOU ABOUT IT. While that may seem like being friendly, it is hell incarnate for them. It forces the person who lost everything to re-tell the worst story of their life, over and over and over. Cannot emphasize this strongly enough. Was the very worst part of everything I went through: the pain caused by loving, well intending friends, whenever they asked me, “What happened?” Do NOT ask them to tell you about it. Do not talk about it. Focus on the blessing of everyone who survived. Focus on tomorrow, not yesterday.

#2) Do not ask them what they need. Just tell them you love them, give money, and call again one week later. When I had PTSD, the worst thing was not being able to think straight. Everyone asked what I needed, but I couldn’t answer. If I had answered, “$20 please,” to each person, that would have made a huge difference. But when you are going through it, you CANNOT THINK STRAIGHT. Do not ask. Just give love, money, and be patient. Follow up. Call them back. Don’t expect they will be thinking clearly enough to ask for what they need. Do not expect them to call or say normal things like Thank You.

#3) Give money. Any amount helps. Do not feel like you need to fix it, and that your gift is not significant enough. Everything helps. When you’ve lost all you owned, you will need to buy everything again. Every donation helps. And when you give, do not expect a Thank You. Give them your understanding as well as cash. No strings attached. Just give.

#4) Never ever say anything like, “I totally understand what you’re going through.” Do not tell stories of other people who lost everything. It does not help. Anything that makes them think about the problem is painful. If they say strange things, be patient. If they do not call you back, be patient. Your brain is functioning just fine, theirs is not. Do not attempt to relate by saying you understand. Be there for them. Help them make one or two decisions about things they need to do today. But do not try to say you know what they are experiencing, because you do not, and your words may trigger more of the pain you are trying to alleviate.

#5) Follow up. Do not wait for them to call you. They may be fluctuating between feeling normal and being out of their mind. Have zero expectations. Love them. Be patient. Wait a week, or a month, and then call again. Never ask them to tell you the story. Just show them you care, and listen for what is hurting the worst. Then call again a month later. The process takes years. Most media and social butterflies will forget about it within a few months, but for them, the hell has just gotten started. Follow up. And then follow up again, later. And then follow up again. Mark your calendar. Be the friend who did not forget.

My most painful memories from my home burning down are of dearly beloved friends who did things that hurt me the worst. And my favorite memories are of the people who gave unconditionally, were patient, and showed their love by not having expectations.

If you know someone who just lost their home, give, be patient, be sensitive with your words, and follow up.

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