By Emily Miranda
How to Best Support Those Who Lost Everything
By Emily J. Miranda
It is nearly a month since the Carr Fire hit our community, tearing up houses and leaving nothing but a trail of ash and devastation behind. The flames may be subsiding as fire crews keep them within containment lines (and far away from the cities they once threatened), but there are many of us who remain impacted.
There are many who have lost their homes, their pets, even some who have lost loved ones. Then there are those who want to know how they can help, how they can be supportive, yet don’t want to go about it the wrong way, or are even wondering if too much time has passed to even be helpful. And so, I've drawn these helpful tips from those experiencing loss and from those whose love is making the most impact. Here are some ways to best support those who have lost everything:
1. Share your love.
Send a text, leave a voicemail, or write a post expressing your love. You’ll never know the power behind your words; these little messages of encouragement are gems in the rubble. As long as your love is present, you can never say the wrong thing.
2. Offer specific needs.
Simply saying, “let me know if there’s anything I can do” is not enough. Most people have a hard time asking for help no matter how devastating the situation. So, offer specific needs such as a place to stay or a home cooked meal. Offer to help them sift through the ash of their home for any surviving valuables, or offer to be their transportation for the month. By offering help in specific ways, they are more likely to accept your help.
3. Give with thought.
Give school supplies to families with children in school, give pet food to those who took their pets with them. See if there is any ‘favorite toy’ that a child lost in the fire that you can replace. Or give gift cards to places that sell clothing, school supplies, food, toiletries, pet food, etc. If you overhear a need being mentioned, give it.
4. Be present. Be understanding.
Don’t get upset if they don’t take you up on your offers, or if they don’t respond to your messages and calls right away. There is a whirlwind of emotions, unanswered questions, and worries about the future that are constantly running through their minds. Be patient, give them space and leniency. Let them grieve. And when they are ready to talk, listen. All they may want is your presence. Sit, listen, give a hug—be supportive. If you feel the need to say something, don’t dismiss their experience with shallow phrases. Saying, “I know how you feel” when you don’t, or using a line like, “there’s a reason for everything”, can sound cold and insulting. Instead, make it a point that you want to help and are there with them. If you don’t know what to say try saying something like, “I wish I knew what to say, but please know that I care”.
5. Encourage normalcy.
It is healthy to instill some sense of normalcy and structure. Whether it’s weekly tennis, church group or the gym, if you noticed they haven’t been going, encourage them to come with you. Offer them a ride if they need it. A sense of community and structure can help them work on getting back to ‘normal’. If they don’t feel comfortable don’t force them to stay; assure them that they are free to leave if they feel uncomfortable.
Overall, be supportive and love as best you can. You may never know the power and impact your support may have in someone’s life, but know this: it makes a difference.
Never stop loving.