When Tragedy Strikes, part I

As most/all of you know, almost two years ago, now, my husband Steve was in a near-fatal car wreck which left him blind.  His recovery was spent in two different hospitals over the course of a month, followed by nearly a year of physical therapy, and then some time on his own at the School for the Blind, operated by the State of Iowa.  In many ways, the recovery continues today.  That experience taught me some very valuable lessons about how to handle family tragedies, and how to offer help to others in that situation.

In the last year, several people on this blog have experienced, either first hand or through family and friends, health-related crises.  Thinking about my own situation, and about theirs, I’ve put together a list of ideas on how outsiders can help handle that crisis.

I’ve divided those ideas into the usual “Do/Don’t” format.  Today, the “Do’s”:


  • Offer help. Whatever help you can give, offer it.  Whether it’s offering to drive the kids to practice, cleaning the house, walking the dog, or making dinner, every little bit helps, and is oh, so very appreciated.  You have no idea that something that you consider “simple,” everyday, or just on the way anyway, could be the biggest worry on your friend’s mind at the moment.  And you’ve just removed that worry by picking up a simple gallon of milk!  (don’t forget the cookies)
  • Listen. Something as simple as listening or holding someone while they cry, to the victim or the family, that’s an awful lot.  Especially if you’re that non-judgmental friend who listens to the angry and/or guilt-ridden outbursts that are sure to exist.
  • Pray.  I am not a religious person.  I often joke that I joined the Catholic Church once, but it didn’t take.  I’ve never been a religious person.  But I’m VERY faithful.  I believe in God, I just don’t know what name to apply.  Many people are like me.  We believe in the power of prayer, of positive thinking, of a group of people getting together and voicing concerns and offering them up to God.  So even if your friend isn’t your religion, pray with her.  She will appreciate it. Miracles happen every day – I’ve witnessed them.  And praying for them, and thanking God for them when they’re granted are appropriate, regardless of your religious stripe or spot.
  • “Think outside the box”. Do you have a talent for writing?  Offer to be the family’s virtual-liaison to the outside world by setting up a blog, and posting daily updates (with the family’s approval, of course).  If you’re an accountant or a lawyer, help sort out the myriad forms and issues that inevitably pop up.  One of the most thoughtful gifts I received when Steve was in the hospital was a gift card good at any of the cafeterias within the hospital. It’s a huge hospital complex, and they had many, many cafeterias, eateries and cafés.  This card was good at ALL of them.  It was most welcome, because I literally lived at that hospital for the first week and a half of his stay there.  This meant that I could stay nearby and eat, rather than relying on someone being around to drive me to a local food place.
  • Organize. If you’re a coordinated-minded person, and your friend has a big circle of friends or family who wishes to pitch in, take the lead.  Make a list of people and talents.  Build a schedule of tasks that need doing, and people who can accomplish those tasks, and start plugging them in.  So many times, we sit back when we see this needs to be done, because we don’t want to intrude.  Seriously, intrude!  Offer first, of course, don’t just barge in there.  But if it needs to be done, and you have the skills… then make use of them.  On the small level, you can organize friends and family.  On the big level, organize a fund-raiser for the family.  But don’t just sit there.

I’m sure that many of you have other ideas… please share them.  And hopefully, tomorrow, we’ll have the “Don’ts”.

This entry was posted in accidents, advice, behavior, emergency, family, friends, friendship, getting sick, hospitals, illness's, kindness, life lessons, live and learn, medical care, nurture, volunteer and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to When Tragedy Strikes, part I

  1. Joy says:

    I’m glad you decided to write this Laura. I haven’t shared on this blog what our family has been going through. It’s just that I don’t talk really personal very often. We found out that Paul’s youngest brother (51) has cancer on Christmas Eve day. It’s been a pretty miserable time for all of us. It’s terminal and he could live a long time. Or a short time. We just don’t know right now. He has a 16 year old daughter and 17 and 15 year old step children. He is the jokster in our family and we all really love him. He is the book-keeper and peace keeper in the family business. We’ve all banded together and helped out to our own abilities. I’ve cooked meals. It’s just what I know how to do. I was cooking for them one day and Trinity asked me why I was cooking for them and I told her it’s because it’s what I know. Cooking for people is just what my era did and does. I’m not sure why but it makes me happy to feed people.

    This is such a helpful topic right now. I’m anxious to hear what other people have to say and things they do.

  2. Ellen says:

    Thank you, Laura, for being so open. Indeed, listening is so important. Just listen and no comment, just some nods and eye contact is enough. And what I experienced during a difficult time in my life, was and still is, the love and attention you get from your family and friends. It is amazing how healing that is.
    When my mom suddenly died 27 years ago, my life was considered over. I died inside. It took me a while to deal with this lost. But I found out, that, when I helped my younger sister to deal with the same lost, it helped me too. She lost the house because of my mom’s death, and I could offer her a place at my house. that is normal to do, I think, but helping her was healing my heart also. And of course, taking care of my oldest son helped a lot.

  3. DM says:

    great topic. Can’t wait for part two. I’ve often said that if and when I go through something tough, I pitty the poor fool who starts spouting trite platitudes w/o a clue to what I’m feeling, We have some close friends who had some major heart ache about 4 years ago now and are still dealing w/ it. My wife and I are both good listeners, I’ve been known to rant on occassion w/ them in the midst of their processing their pain.

    • Joy says:

      @ Ellen and DM, listening is so important. Some people want to avoid all talk and I don’t feel as close to a few people as I used to because of it.

      I was talking to an old friend the other day and she told me she was sorry she asked how he was. Was I supposed to lie? I know another person who just never asks about him and that’s kind of painful too since it’s someone I talk to a lot and she’s also close to him and knows him very well. Like avoiding all talk will somehow make things better. I need to break down once in a while but don’t really have anyone to do that with since I have to be the strong one for my husband and kids and his family.

  4. I’m so sorry, Laura- I actually didn’t know about this at all. Your husband is amazing for being resilient and dealing with this; I’ve heard of situations where people crumble after tragedies like this, and I admire you both for learning to live with him becoming blind and still [or so it always seems to me from your posts] living your lives as best you can.

    Joy, I’m also so very sorry to hear about your brother in law’s illness! Cancer is such a scary and horrible disease, and it’s awful not knowing what’s going to happen…

    Laura, I think this post was excellent, and very needed. So many people feel awkward and confused in the face of tragedy striking friends of theirs and often don’t know what to do. They don’t know what’s okay to say, what’s okay to do, what’s needed and what’s not. But sometimes all we need to make us feel better is someone who listens, who gives us the opportunity to rant or vent our feelings, or someone to help with the little day-to-day cares like errands and cleaning and groceries. Just knowing, even by little things like the gift-card you mentioned, can make us feel that others care and are extending their hearts to us, and that’s enough.

    • Joy says:

      Thanks Ilana. I know I’ve been guilty in the past of not knowing what to say but I do feel being there is more important. Just to be with someone helps them. Also, the little things in life are sometimes the things people worry about the most.

  5. Just a Mom says:

    Great post. I had a friend who passed away 2 years ago from melanoma and while she was going through treatments she said the best thing people did for her was to take the kids, she had 3 small kids, to the park for an hour or so. The kids got a break and so did she.

  6. Nikki says:

    Sometimes you feel so helpless….you don’t want to step on anyones toes or offend them. I think this post is wonderful and full of great, appropriate information. Helpful tips are always appreciated! I am so sorry for what you, your husband and son have to deal with on a daily basis….it’s certainly not what any of you singed up for but you have to make it work. There really is no other option.
    What our family has gone through is just as shocking because it was so sudden. He went from having neck pains to full blown cancer in a matter of a week maybe. Good positive thoughts always help. He’s home where he is comfortable for the time being anyway!
    Thanks for this post Laura!!! 🙂

    • Joy says:

      I think the shock with Kevin was awful. Nobody saw this coming. Just another reminder that if something is wrong, go to the doctor. He’s been seeing a chiropractor for MONTHS!

  7. Tessa says:

    Joy, I am very sorry to hear about Paul’s brother. He is in our thoughts and prayers, as well as you guys. I think this is great advice and post for everyone to keep in mind. My aunt, my dad’s closest sister, is going through chemo and terminal cancer right now too. She is the sweetest woman and it is difficult to see her in this pain. It went from breast cancer to spreading in her body. God keeps her going forward strong and with joy in her heart still-good community and family support too. Laura, you have great advice and thank you for sharing so openly.

    When my husband had brain surgery, what was most touching was our family, friends, and strangers at the Fisher house we stayed at near the hospital- stopping by just to see how we are doing, calling to see how they could help, sending money, and just showing they cared and wanted to help was so humbling and meant so much. It is funny how the smallest gesture can change a person’s mood.

  8. Morocco says:

    Very good advice!

  9. Laura says:

    Hi, everyone… I had intended to monitor this more closely today, and then Mother Nature decided to hit us with an ice storm and a school closing! So I hung out with Josh most of the day.

    Anyway, First off, thank you for the kind words… this post is very close to my heart, and I’ve been writing it for almost two years. There have been so many times when I’ve just thought, “these things need to be said, just put it up,” and I’ve chickened out. I don’t know why. You’ve all shown me that I didn’t have to be such a coward! Thank you so much!

    I agree with all of you… talking, even when you don’t know the “right” words is soooooo much better than staying away.

    And, as the caregiver, it’s soo hard sometimes – as Joy mentioned – to reach out to others. You don’t want to seem the burden to people, you don’t want to be a “whiner” (ok, I don’t want to be a whiner), you need to talk, but aren’t sure who you can turn to to “dump on”. It’s so incredibly wonderful to know that there’s someone – and I’m lucky to have several “someones” – that you can say ANYTHING to, and not have them come back and bite you with it. That’s where that ‘unconditional listening’ comes in.

  10. Pingback: When Tragedy Strikes, part II « Joy, Nikki, Sue, Laura & Pam~Our Views

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