When I wrote the piece “Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis,” I had no idea the nerve that I would touch. Sadly, I think it resonated deeply with people because they have heard all the stupid things I mentioned. I was honored to read through the comments; I was saddened by what I read. It makes me believe that we need mandatory workshops in crisis care.
But the question remains, what are some good things to say to people in crisis?
Here are a few things that I’ve found tremendously helpful.
- You can cry. Weird isn’t it, how we need to be given permission to cry? I’m continually amazed both as a nurse, and as a human being, at the reactions that people have to their own crying. The most common response is people saying “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to cry.” This is heart breaking. When we apologize for crying, we are apologizing for our humanity. We are apologizing for our vulnerability, instead of realizing what a gift it is to be vulnerable. Tears cleanse our souls; they remind us of our humanity. Tears are gifts of the hurting heart. Being given permission to shed these tears is critically important. In giving permission, we are saying “It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to be human. It’s okay to hurt.”
In the process of shedding tears, souls heal and wrong is made right.
- Can I bring you pizza? Or dinner, or wine, or….! Being physically cared for is the most important part of the beginning days of a crisis.
- I can drive you. Again, this is meeting those critical first days of chaos, when thinking is blurred, and even brushing your teeth feels impossible. This is also important throughout the healing period. Driving to hospital visits, to grocery stores, to appointments….all of these add up for the person in crisis. To have someone share the driving helps share the burden.
- I cleared my schedule so I can come sit with you at the hospital (or at the appointment, or in the court room.) Often crisis periods mean a lot of sitting. To have someone sit with you, without being restless, is a way to care for people in crisis.
- Let me make you some tea. I admit, I come from the part of the world where tea cures everything. But you know something? It really does. Tea brings warmth and comfort. Tea brings hope and strength. While coffee tends to bring energy, tea brings calm to any situation.
- I can pick up your kids. Another tangible, concrete expression of care.
- You’re right, it isn’t fair. Instead of contradicting someone, and telling them that life is never fair, affirm their voice, affirm their pain. People are smart, they know when they are being irrational and unreasonable. We don’t have to contradict them and give them lectures on life.
- It IS too much to bear. So many difficulties in life feel too big for us. They are too overwhelming, and when we are in the midst of them, we don’t think we can get through. And so we need someone to bear our burdens. I remember climbing a mountain in Pakistan when I was a teenager. I was with two of my brothers. It got to a point when I was done. It was too hard and I wanted to turn back. My older brother Tom looked at me and said, “I’ll help. We do this together.” He put his hand on the my back and literally propelled me forward. That was all I needed. We walked upward like that for a few minutes, and that was enough. I made it the rest of the way on my own. I think of that often when I think about walking with people through crisis. “We do this together, you won’t be alone” are powerful words.
- I’m so sorry. Saying those words aloud, letting them know that you are grieving with them, sitting beside them in silence as they pour out their hearts, this is the fellowship of suffering.
In all of this, I am reminded of the kindness of Jesus. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.*” These words from the Gospel of Matthew are beautiful. The goal of crisis care is burden sharing. It is compassion and kindness that eases the pain, that shares the load. Jesus ends with these powerful words that offer rest and hope: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It’s an offer of grace in the midst of suffering.
So there we have it: In the midst of crisis, we are to offer grace. Not guilt, not lectures, not warnings, not platitudes, not self-righteous monologues – we are to offer grace.
May we seek the heart, mind, and words of Jesus as we walk beside people in crisis.
And to you in crisis – here is a final word.
Note: Some of these must be done in relationship. Obviously, if the kids don’t know you, then picking them up could be disastrous. But there are other things that can be done without being in a close relationship.