Over the past week I have done a lot of thinking in regards to how individuals respond to a crisis.
Specifically for me, I have been thinking about how family, friends and general acquaintances respond to a death and the grief that follows. However, I believe what I am going to talk about could go along with any crisis that someone has – a serious illness, a home being destroyed by fire or natural disaster, a car accident or divorce.
After years of providing grief counseling and going through my own grief, I feel that individuals fall into a few categories when a crisis occurs. Please note that this is only my simply theory and what I developed from my professional and personal experiences.
Many people immediately respond when an event occurs. They are the FIREFIGHTERS that rush to the scene to organize, field questions and calls and support the individual in crisis. They bring food, clean the house, and take on tasks that need to be done. Last year after my Mom’s death, when one friend asked what I needed, I sent her to Sephora to make sure I had concealer for dark circles under my eyes.
Just as in a real fire, we all need those Firefighters in our life. Sometimes they are family or church members, sometimes they are close friends. In cases such as natural disasters they often are strangers who simply know what is needed during this time.
However, just as in real life, the firefighters don’t stay forever. They make sure the structure is safe and the immediate needs are met and then they slowly leave the area and return to their own lives.
This is when one discovers who the BUILDERS are in their life. I’ve regularly used the comparison of a death making one feel as if the pieces of your life have fallen a part. As one begins to create a new normal, a building process begins. Rebuilding a life (after a death or after any other disaster) is not easy. It takes support and the love and understanding of friends and family.
As I’ve discussed before, often society has unrealistic expectations of a grieving individuals. After a few months, it isn’t unusual for one to expect the griever to “be over it” or “back to normal”. It is the BUILDERS in our lives that know it takes time to rebuild. These are the individuals who continue to ask how you are doing – and seriously mean it. These are the individuals who take phone calls at odd hours of the day and night because you are having a difficult time. The BUILDERS are there for the long haul.
As I look back over the past year of my life, I have been blessed with friends who fit into both of the above categories and many of them fit into both (although I do think it is rare). We shouldn’t expect everyone to be both roles and not everyone has the ability to think quickly and provide the immediate support of a Firefighter and some of those individuals don’t have the ability to be the long term support of a Builder.
I should note that during a crisis and the aftermath, it is not unusual to be surprised at who doesn’t show up. We often find there are those who do not have the ability to be either in our lives. As a result, there may be instances where relationships are perhaps not ended but changed as one individual doesn’t know how to respond and thus they do nothing. Over the years, I have heard many people describe this situation of where close friends never acknowledged a death or a serious life event. It’s hard to believe this occurs but it does more than we realize. I’ve had it happen to me. Showing up is better than nothing at all.
Finally, I want to address a group of people that occur at every crisis. These are the GAWKERS. They come to watch the fire and the firefighters but they offer nothing. These are the individuals who may show up at the bedside of a dying person but want nothing more than to just see. These are the individuals who also like to talk about what they saw as if they were truly doing the work and got their hands dirty. I know that you know someone like this.
Crisis situations are never pretty but they bring opportunities. As a trained Crisis Counselor, I’ve spent most of my life knowing what is needed in the immediate aftermath of a plane crash, tornado, or sudden death. As a grief counselor, I’ve also been there for the rebuilding of lives after the death of a spouse, parent or child. The main premise for each role is to be there.
The reality is that our roles of Firefighter or Builder will change depending upon the situation and person. I challenge you to consider which role you feel more comfortable in. Regardless, I encourage you to be there when a friend is in crisis.
Sheryl is a transition coach, trainer and speaker from Lexington Kentucky. As the author of the blog How to Make A Life, she uses her own life and journey as a blueprint to help others find motivation, inspiration and hope for a healthy and happy life. About Twitter Instagram Pinterest