Don't ask what someone needs, offer ways to help.

Whenever someone is dealing with something outside of the norm, people have a tendency to say, "let me know how I can help." While those words are well-meaning, they can be a bit hollow. A caregiver is often overwhelmed and can't articulate the help they need, or they don't want to ask for something that the offerer might be unwilling to do.

These tips work for someone who has just brought home a new family member, lost a friend or family member, suffered a life-changing situation or are in a long-term caregiving situation. People living at a facility also need help. Imagine having someone help you 24 hours a day, you probably can't get EVERYTHING you need from the people who are helping. Adjustments will need to be made depending on the situation. 

Here are 14 things you can do for someone in need so you don't have to say "let me know how I can help." 

First and foremost

  1. Remember the person needing care is still the same person they've always been. They may need help, but they still want to be who they are. If they like death metal, they're probably not going to be thrilled about the One Direction crap you just brought over for a diversion. 

    Now the rest
  2. Take food over. Food is always appreciated, just be sensitive to any food allergies or restrictions the people you want to help might have. Take Them a Meal or Calendar Care are services you can use to coordinate food delivery from multiple people.
    • Can't cook? Buy something from a restaurant or a grocery store. I like to take over pizza or one of the meals for 4 that you get at the grocery store.
    • Don't live locally? Order take out or delivery from their favorite restaurant.
  3.  Clean up. Most people need help keeping the house clean, whether or not they are caregiving. If you don't have money to spend, this is an inexpensive way to help someone.
    • Clean the bathroom.
    • Clean the kitchen.
    • Clean out a closet. 
    • Help children clean their rooms.
  4. Rearrange the house. If there is a physical change, the household may need to be reorganized to be better suited for caregiving. Pay attention to the flow of the house and make suggestions that you think would optimize the situation. Just don't push for your suggestions, or have hurt feelings, if the people you are trying to help don't take you up on your suggestions. 
  5. Run errands. People always have errands that need to be handled.
    • Picking someone up at the airport.
    • Dropping off supplies. 
    • Returning items that were brought over by friends.
  6. Take over supplies. Lot's of times there are many people coming in and out of the house. Bottled waters, tupperware, throwaway napkins and plates are often a helpful way to temporarily keep a house running. But don't ask someone if they want you to bring over paper supplies - just do it. They'll use them or they won't. (PS: I will judge you, hardcore, if you use throwaway supplies permanently. THE ENVIRONMENT!!)
  7. Fill in as caregiver. The caregiver may just need a break. Offer to perform caregiving responsibilities for a few hours. Just remember that where they go, or what they do, is none of your business. Life as a caregiver is hard. Everyone relaxes differently. 
  8. Help the caregiver take care of themselves. Caregivers have a really hard time prioritizing themselves. They don't want to be a burden. They often feel like THEY are not the one that needs help, the person that they are caring for needs help. Bullshit. We all need help. Even people who are not caregivers need help. Does the caregiver have goals they are struggling to meet because of responsibilities? Close friends can help with this. If I'm in a caregiver situation and someone from work suggests I need to go exercise, I'm probably not going to be gracious with my response. 
  9. Implement a system for others who are helping. You don't want the people you are helping to have to reorient you every time you come over. Develop a system for keeping things running that doesn't burden them.
  10. Help the kids. If there are children in the household, they may need help accomplishing things, too. 
    • Homework
    • Room cleaning
    • Learning tasks that will be helpful
    • Going to the movies
    • Getting the opportunity to be a kid
  11. Care for animals. Make walking the dog or cleaning up after cats can be your responsibility for a period of time. It's always helpful to have an extra set of hands when there are animals in a home. 
  12. Look for services that will help. As unique as this situation may be to the person you are helping, it's probably not a unique situation. There may be services in place to help someone going through a transition. The person going through the transition probably doesn't have time to look for them. You might. (Google is going to be your friend here.) 
  13. Bring over a diversion. Pets, movies and cakes would all work as diversions for me. I'm sure you can come up with something similar for someone you care about.  
  14. Give a small gift to the person who is doing the most work. They're probably overwhelmed and feeling invisible. It's always nice to be noticed.   

Now that you've got some ideas about how you can help, let's work on how your offer your help to your friends/family. Remember that caregiving situations differ dramatically. Some people have need in the short-term, but for some, intense caregiving can last several months or years. 

How do you offer?

  • Show them you're trying to understand what they're going through. 
  • Offer help.
  • Offer three things you know you can do (and let them chose one).

You simply say, "I know you're household has been turned upside-down. I'd like to help. I can either run errands for you on Tuesday, bring over dinner tomorrow night or hang out and help around the house on Saturday. What would be most helpful right now?"

These suggestions are all well-intentioned. Remember that people deal with situations differently. If your good-intentions are misperceived, try not to get offended. Something that seems like a bad idea today, may be a great idea later in the week. 

I'd love to keep adding to this list. What have you done to help friends or family in need?