As I mentioned earlier this week, widows need to be prepared for disappointment. So many people have so many good intentions, but the reality is many folks simply will not be there when you need them.
However, that’s not necessarily because they are insensitive. Many times, people don’t know how to follow-up on their offer to provide help. In those cases, we can help make it easier for them.
Here’s how to ask for help without feeling like a total heel in the process
1. Create a list of ideas in advance
Ok, I know this is absolutely not realistic for some of you, particularly if your husband has just died. You can barely get out of bed in the morning and are lucky if you remember how to run the coffeemaker most days.
But if you are able to create a list – even if it’s just in your head – of ways people could help, you can immediately respond to every offer you receive. When someone says, “let us know how we can help,” you can say on the spot, “well, I could really use X,Y or Z.”
Actually, if you’re stuck in that grief fog which makes it impossible to do anything, ask the next friend who wants to help if they can write down your list. Seriously. Say, “I don’t know what I need right now, but do you have 5 minutes to help me figure it out?”
2. Enlist a friend to do the dirty work
The bonus of having a friend brainstorm a list with you is that person may pick a few items and run with them. Oh, you need someone to weed the garden? They may just say they can take care of that.
Even if you don’t have a friend help you create a list, don’t be afraid to approach someone you trust to rally the troops. You may feel awkward asking for something for yourself. In that case, let a best friend, sister or other confidante do it for you.
It helps if that person is keyed into your support network – i.e. a member of your church or school community – but it’s not necessary. You’d be amazed at what an extrovert with a list of names can accomplish.
3. Turn to technology
Personally, I hate putting people on the spot. I hate making others feel like they have to say yes. My worst fear is I’ll ask someone for help, they’ll oblige and later I’ll learn they were in the middle of their own personal crisis. Talk about a situation that would make you feel like a heel!
Fortunately, like so much in today’s world, technology comes to the rescue. There are a number of websites that make it easy to say what you need without putting pressure on anyone to respond yes. Here’s a sample:
- GoFundMe: This is probably is the most popular site for financial support. If you need help paying for the funeral or making ends meet, this can be a low-key way for others to help cover costs.
- Take Them a Meal: One of the easiest ways to provide support to a grieving family is to bring food. However, anyone who’s been on the receiving end of this generosity knows it can be overwhelming if multiple people bring meals on the same day. Websites like Take Them a Meal let friends and relatives sign up for a day and see what others are bringing as well. Then you won’t end with lasagna five days in a row either.
- SignUpGenius: This website serves as a great catch-all for everything else. You could list anything from rides for your kids to housecleaning to lawn care here. Like the other options above, the beauty of this method is people can see where you need help without feeling pressured into something specific.
I think it would be perfectly reasonable to set up one of these sites yourself. Tell your friends and relatives that many people have offered help and this is the easiest way to share what your family needs right now. But if that feels awkward, talk to a friend or relative about doing it on your behalf.
4. Practice your delivery
Many of us are programmed to be self-sufficient. We don’t want to think we need others, and we certainly don’t want to ask for help. But if you’re a widow who is struggling, you need to put that pride aside.
There is no shame in asking for help, but for those not accustomed to doing so, you may find it helps to have a standard “pitch” in mind before talking to someone. Yes, I know. Pitch makes it sound so salesy, and if you have a better word, let me know.
But practice saying something like this until it feel natural:
- This may sound silly, but I’m having a lot of trouble doing X. Could you help me?
- I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by X. Could you help me by doing Y?
- You mentioned earlier you might be able to help me out if needed. I’m having some difficulty with X. Could you help with that?
You may notice these all have qualifiers on them. You could certainly leave those out and go straight to the meat of your request, but I’ve found it’s easier to make a request if I ease into it by acknowledging how I’m feeling.
5. Be specific and limited in requests
Finally, the best way to get the help you need is to be specific. Telling someone you might need help getting Timmy home from practice is a lot different than saying Timmy has practice at 5pm on Wednesday and needs a ride.
The first example is vague. Even if someone responds that they can help, you’ll still need to follow-up with them which is one more thing to worry about during a time when you’re already overwhelmed.
Plus, people might be more likely to help if they know it’s only for a specific day and time. They may be hesitant to say yes to something that could have them providing rides for the next three months. But on Wednesday? Sure, they can handle one Wednesday.
No wants to ask for help but that doesn’t mean you should feel bad about doing so. Remember, the people who matter want to be there for you. Anyone who feels put off or offended by your request probably isn’t worth your time or energy. As I’ve said before, focus on those who matter.