questions to ask when a friend is in crisis


One of the things people keep repeating, as it relates to Hurricane Harvey recovery, is that this experience is "a marathon, and not a sprint." In the last month, our family has gone from crisis to mourning to now laser-focus on getting back on our feet, and at every turn, we've had some amazing help from friends and strangers alike, all of whom appear like angels almost in the moment we desperately need them.  But now that we've had a chance to breathe a bit, I wanted to share two questions in particular that two different friends asked me, questions that I found incredibly thoughtful and helpful. These are questions that I know I'll be using in the future whenever I'm trying to help a friend going through a crisis.

The first question was from my friend Erin Loechner, who messaged to check in on us mere days after our house flooded.  We were still bunking at Alex's best friend's family's home, and trying to figure out where we were going to live.  We hadn't been able to get to our home and didn't know when we'd be able to, because the roads were still impassable. I hadn't spoken with Erin for some time, so it was a lovely surprise when I received her "are you okay?" text.  After I assured her that the three of us were safe, her follow-up question was:

"How can I help you today?"

It was the "today" that I found so wonderful -- had she left it open-ended, and simply said "How can I help?" I think in my frantic state of mind, I would've hysterically typed back, "I DON'T KNOW I DON'T KNOW I DON'T KNOW!!!!" But because she instinctively knew that at the time I had to be living moment by moment, literally day by day, her narrowing down the time frame for me to think about what might be helpful for me in the immediate future was actually really helpful, and in some ways, really comforting.


The second question came from my friend Irène Nam, just this past Friday morning.  It has been over a month since we evacuated our house, and while we're certainly out of crisis mode at this point, we obviously still have a long road ahead of us:  we have to demolish our home, rebuild, and replace our belongings, all of which we lost in the floodwaters.  After greeting me with her trademark warmth, Irène, who understands that the emotions that come with dealing with loss can ebb and flow, asked me:

"Is today an easy day?"

Because, in this marathon, some days are easy, and some are difficult, and they will be that way until we finally get into our home, her question was a lovely way to encourage me to reflect on how my day was going in a more mindful way.  Further, her question just felt better than a generic "how are you?" -- it felt thoughtful, since, obviously, even though we may be coping, her question silently acknowledged that things aren't generally that great right now, and may not be for a while.  The truth is, my inevitable reflexive, "oh, fine!" answer to a generic "how are you?" question never really feels very honest;  but in this case, my "it's a busy day, but I feel emotionally strong," answer did.

Anyway, I share both of these questions to you, friends, in case there are folks in your own lives who are struggling with their own crises. As I mentioned, they're questions that I'll be using going forward, myself.

And thank God for lovely friends like Erin and Irène who help me feel cared for, and help me think. 


Soundtrack:  My friend by Groove Armada