Just Show Up and Do Something (But Bring This List Along)

Last spring, as I was approaching the first anniversary of my cancer surgery, which is just days before the first anniversary of my then-barely-pregnant-daughter’s now-ex-husband walking out and saying he wanted a divorce, I wrote a post on my personal Facebook about lessons on service all the craziness of 2021* taught me (or reinforced for me).

In part, I wrote:

Lesson One: Just show up and do something.

When a person or a family is in crisis, don’t say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” God knows I’ve said that a fragillion times over the years. And? God knows I meant it. God also knows I’ll probably find myself in future situations where I want to help but don’t know what to do, so I’ll say it again (and then go throw up in my mouth a little). Because we all process and grieve and deal differently, it’s hard to know how to best help someone, so we say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do,” and we mean it. And that’s. not. bad.

However, while it is a well-intentioned sentiment, it adds one more thing to the burden of the already-overburdened person (the one more thing being the burden of figuring out what the helper person can do so that the burdened person feels better and the helper person feels better, in case that wasn’t clear); but it shouldn’t be the burdened person’s responsibility to make you feel better by coming up with some service for you to perform – they’re already in some sort of crisis.

It’s not that I’m not grateful for the service that has been rendered to my family this past year, it’s just that I was already overwhelmed, so casting about to come up with something other people could do for me (“pull weeds” is where I landed last spring) felt like one. more. thing. I know that may sound petty, but when you’ve just had a body part removed, you know the disease could come back and kill you anyway, and your heart is ripped out a few days after the body part removal? I can’t begin to describe that level of . . . I don’t know what. There are people in all kinds of different crises feeling that level of I-don’t-know-what. We all need to be better about using our eyes and just pulling the weeds, or whatever, without being asked or assigned.

After posting my thoughts on service, a friend messaged me and told me about an experience a friend of hers had. Her friend was going through a crisis, and another friend showed up with a list of ways to serve and said, basically, “Read this and pick some things I can do for you.”

“This,” I thought, “is brilliant.” Having a list makes it easier for both the person serving and the person being served.

The person serving doesn’t have to hope they’re doing something needful and appreciated (because, as I tell my kids, help is only help if it’s actually helpful), and the person being served doesn’t have to think about what might be helpful at a time when they can barely think and then think to reach out and ask for that help. They can just pick from the list knowing that the person bringing the list is willing to do any of it and/or help organize friends/neighbors/family members/church congregation to do more of it.

Thanks to that message from my one friend, I went back to my personal Facebook and asked many friends for service ideas. Because I? NEED such a list. They gave me lots of ideas. A couple months later, I went back and asked again. I got more ideas.

So now, I ‘m going to share that list with you. I hope you find the idea as brilliant as I did, and I hope it can help you more effectively serve people in your communities when the need arises.

Please comment with any additional ideas you might have and, of course, feel free to share this list with others.

I will do my best to keep the list updated as new ideas come in (there’s a link at the end for a printable version) (let me know if it doesn’t work; I’m not brilliant at this stuff).

Service List

Emotional Support

  • Go to lunch
  • Text a daily positive thought/quote
  • Tell jokes
  • Send/bring surprises
  • Go fun shopping
  • Bring a milkshake/smoothie
  • Go for a walk
  • Go for an aimless drive
  • Go on an outdoor adventure (hiking, boating, etc.)
  • Pray with me
  • Text to check in regularly
  • Sit and listen
  • Sit with me & do/expect nothing

Event/Occasion Help

  • Throw a party or open house (sometimes a crisis hits at the same time as a graduation, baby being born, milestone birthday or anniversary, etc.)
  • Help set up for a party or open house
  • Help clean up after a party or open house
  • Help cook for a party or open house
  • Help decorate for the upcoming holiday
  • Help cook for the upcoming holiday
  • Help shop for the upcoming holiday
  • Help take down/put away decorations
  • Help plan funeral

General Help

  • Bring in a meal or meals
  • Bring in freezer meals for later
  • Fill in for previously scheduled volunteer obligations (school, church, community, etc.)
  • Grocery shopping
  • Write thank you notes
  • Help organize medical bills/other paperwork
  • Give ride to an appointment or appointments
  • Attend doctor or school meetings with you

Household Help

  • Do laundry
  • Do dishes
  • Mop floors
  • Clean baseboards
  • Dust blinds
  • Sweep garage
  • Organize a room or area
  • Vacuum
  • Wash cabinets
  • Wash windows
  • Organize pantry
  • Shine/clean shoes
  • Paint a room
  • Wash cars

Long-distance Service

  • Send a snack
  • Send cozy socks
  • Send uplifting texts
  • Text regularly to check in
  • Send flowers
  • Send chocolate
  • Send a book or books

Parenting Help

  • Watch kids
  • Drive carpool
  • Organize/host play-dates for kids
  • Make kids’ appointments
  • Take kids’ to appointments/extracurriculars
  • Help kids with homework
  • Teach teenager how to drive

Pet Help

  • Walk the dog(s)
  • Make vet appointments
  • Take pet(s) to the vet

Yard Work Help

  • Mow grass
  • Rake leaves
  • Pull weeds
  • Plant flowers
  • Plant garden
  • Sweep porch/driveway/sidewalks

For a printable version (with little checkboxes to check off the desired service), please click here.

*In addition to the cancer and my daughter’s divorce? Two of my sons and I were in a rollover car accident at the end of the year. 2021 was C-R-A-Z-Y!

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