Asking Why

Part of the disengaged, enduring phase is to ask what’s going on with them right now. Most of the time you’re going to hear them come back and say, “Why did this happen?” It’s our human nature. We want to know why things happen. It’s the way we’re built, the way we’re wired. But there are some answers we’ll never get. Sometimes if we even hear an answer to a question, we don’t like it. Letting them know that there may not be an answer at all, helps. It may not be something they’ll ever hear. If they do get an answer to their question of why, they’re probably not gonna like it. It still won’t make any sense. But just saying, “You know there’s never gonna be an answer that you’re gonna be happy with”, “I don’t know.” Those things are always good and very clear to say. You also may hear them say, “Why, God. Why did you allow this to happen? Why did you do this to me?” Those are heavy questions.

Remember you’re not going to have the answer. You’re not God. But what we have to remember is that we are a presence. We are the light that’s going to shine into their darkness right now. Most people in the middle of a crisis can’t even hear God. They’re so distraught, they’re so overwhelmed. All of their emotions, their body, everything is on such high alert. They can’t even feel the presence. That’s what you’re there to do. Bring the light. Bring the comfort. Bring the calm and the peace of Christ in the middle of this situation.

They Have Time

One of the things that we need to realize is that the person in crisis has time. You know, when someone dies, a funeral service or home will come in and say, “You need to make these choices right now.” You can take the time you need to gather the people around you, other resources around you, whatever it takes to make that planning session as calm as it possible can be.

Remember we talked about your demeanor, being a calm presence. If you can go with them, great. You’re that sounding board; you’re the one that’s not immediately involved. You can let them know, “You know, you can wait. You don’t have to decide on what type of casket right now. You can make those decisions a little bit later.” If there is religious preferences that they must be buried within a certain amount of time, they’ll know. They know what they have to do and when they have to do it. But if there isn’t any pressure, you can ask, “Hey, Can we wait on this answer? Let’s take some time to think about it.”

Again, we want to acknowledge this event. This is a horrible time for them. So, when they keep saying, “I can’t believe this is happening. Why is this going on? This is awful.” You say, “Yes, it is. You’re right. I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this.” By acknowledging the event over and over again for them, it helps to make it real. And the more real it is, and the more they’ve settled with that, the more opportunity they will have to move forward. They’ll find the hope for a better tomorrow, by just knowing what’s going on is real. They ’ll transition from being unrealistic to reassure, which is where want to get them.

One of the things that we can do is provide resources. You’ll take a look in your own city and find out what resources are available. There are lots of free opportunities out there, for counseling groups, support groups. If they have insurance, go through that. Whatever they have, but make an opportunity to take a look, be prepared to offer the resources that are local to you.

Unhelpful Phrases You May Hear

Some of the things we should never say but often you hear in a crisis situation.

The real amazing thing is not only should we not say them when we’re trying to help someone, but what a really great idea is to educate the person you’re trying to help that they may hear some of these phrases. People don’t mean to be insensitive or often even cruel at times, but it happens. So if we tell them ahead of time they may hear some of these phrases, it will help. It prepares them, gives them some resilience, and helps them to endure. Some of those things that you might hear is that, “Jesus needed him more than you did” or “He’s an angel now” or “You’re young enough to marry again.” Really? Like that’s gonna make it better. All of those incredibly hurtful. So we can educate and try and help the person to understand they don’t want to hurt them. It’s just they’re trying to say something to help the situation.

Now one of the stories that comes to my mind frequently when I hear what should we not say, is “The Good Die Young”. Great song, but unfortunately had such a huge impact. This is what happened: Parents, grandparents, they’re just sitting around talking, believe it was at the service if I remember correctly. A child was there; he was about six. He was the youngest of the four siblings. He heard them saying, “Well you know, the good die young. It’s such a shame.” As the week went on and he went back to school, he became a bit, a very disruptive child. He had never been that before. He started fighting, being disrespectful, even changing the way he looked and his appearance. Didn’t want to comb his hair, didn’t want to brush his teeth- those kind of things. It was very odd. They kept trying to talk to him and they brushed it off. Well they did just have a death in the family, but that wasn’t the case. School counselor came in and was talking with him and said, “What’s going on?”, he said, “Well you know, the good die young and I don’t want to die, so I’m not going to be good.” What a revelation! We don’t realize the words that we say have such a huge impact. We don’t know who’s listening. So by talking, and thinking, and educating the people that are around us about the words we use we can make a huge difference.

Let Them Tell Their Story

So you’ve heard me say, ‘let them tell their story, over and over again. You’ve heard that already once or twice before. But it’s so important. What happens when someone tells their story? They actually relive it a little bit. But it helps them to desensitize from it. If we just experience something horrific and don’t ever talk about it again, it stays at a heightened state of arousal in the front of our brain. You can actually think that’s where some PTS comes from. The stress, the levels, they never calm down. So by letting someone tell their story over and over again, is so important. It desensitizes it and realizes that it’s reality. Remember there’s some unrealistic behaviors going on; they want to talk themselves out of it. But when they relive the story, it’s real. So then it helps them to understand that they’re behaving very normally in an abnormal situation.

I sat with one couple and talked about the suicide of their daughter. We talked about it for days, going over it and over it and over it again. But by the end of the week, they were doing much much better. When they’re telling their story you may want to ask them, “What happened just before? Did you have coffee that morning? What happened over the weekend prior to it?” It helps them to be grounded and remember that there were good times. Things were going on and then they can go into the story that’s so painful. It makes a huge difference. Their resiliency will get there, and they will start to grow.

Ministering In a Crisis

Things you must know in a crisis.

One of the basics is that you don’t have the answers. It’s not uncommon to have someone going, “Why did this happen? I don’t understand. Why did this happen?” I know I said that same question hundreds of times those first 24-48 hours and I hear it constantly from others. You know what?0 You don’t have the answer. And that’s the best thing you can say, “I don’t know.” Why it is the hardest? We want to have answers. Our society in our technology today insists that we should have all the answers at our fingertips. There should be a ‘why’ but in crisis there is no ‘why’. And even if you did have the answer, would it make them feel better? If you understood why that person was drinking and driving and ran over that other person, would that made a difference? Maybe they lost a job? That doesn’t give an excuse. Just because you may have answer, doesn’t mean you should give it. But most of the time we will never have the answer to the ‘why’. Why did they die? Why did this happen? Why this flood? Why?

Now it’s compounding. It keeps happening. We’re not going to know the ‘why’ so be comfortable and get used to saying and practice, “ I don’t know.” What about giving advice? For fix-it people, we want to make the situation better. We want to make it right. But do we really know what right is? Giving advice is not what we should be doing right now. You know some people even ask you, “ What should I do?” Again, we come back to, “ I don’t know. We can write things down though.” And we start making a list. How do we do this? How do you do that? When you write down a list and then you can review it later, it helps them make the best decision possible. Some people will ask you, “ Please just you decide.” “No, this is for you. But we can wait on that decision.” This is not your crisis, so make sure you’re not advising. You’re not telling them what to do. But say, “ You know we can write some of these things down. These questions you have. What funeral service should I use? Is there a new job market that I should search in? Should I go for a new career?” Whatever the situation is, let’s make a list, write down all the options, and then review. But telling that person what to do is your biggest mistake, so don’t.

Our next point? Theology. You know, people come in and want to preach the Word of God and give a good word. I love the word too. And there’s a time for it . But right now in the middle of that crisis, they’re not ready to hear God’s promise that he’s going to take everything and make it good. Romans 8:28 seems to come out quite a bit, and while it is true, it is a hard one to take when you’re in the middle of that crisis, particularly on the very onset. So what
can we do? We can pray for them. We can ask them if they would like us to pray. But right now, we’re just gonna be silent. People ask, “Why God?” You have to go back to, “ I don’t know.” There’s a time and there’s a place, and that time will show-up and we’ll be there, ready. But to preach theology, to go over all of God’s promises right then in the very midst of that crisis? They’re barely gonna remember who you are, what your name is At that point. So teaching and preaching? Not the time . It’ll come later.

The last part of assessing is to accept without judgement. I can’t begin to understand and see all the different avenues and the details that are with this. So I can’t judge. It’s not my job to judge. We’re also told not to judge. Given all of that, ask questions gently but firmly. Let them
tell you their story and just accept it as it comes out. Perspectives change. My view of it, the neighbors view, or the person that’s in crisis, their view. Perspective is all there is. Keep your judgment out of your mind, your words, and your actions.

How Not To Respond In a Crisis

Where we fail. How not to respond to situations in crisis.

Some of those key things that show up that cause secondary injury are really important for us to remember not to do. One of those things is failing to be silent. We talked about a ministry of presence. It’s just being there. But one of the things that’s really important for us to do, is know when to be quiet. When you’re in the middle of helping someone and you want so desperately to say something, anything to relieve them, to give them some comfort. And you’re searching desperately to find those words, that’s your cue to say nothing at all. We fail to be silent at times. God gave us two ears, and one mouth. We should use them accordingly. It’s important to listen more than speak. When we talk, we are preventing them from talking. It’s important to hear their story. Whatever it might be, right or wrong. It’s just their emotions coming out. That’s what we’re there to do. Listen. Be a sounding board. Remember to stay silent.

Another thing is not being emotionally present. If you have kids at all, how many times have you talked to them you just know they’re not listening? You could say, “ Are you listening to me? I want you to look at me while I’m talking to you.” I know I’ve said that, I don’t know how many times in my own home. I don’t think my kids are really hearing me. People know when you’re really paying attention. Being emotionally present. Looking them in the eye, then looking away following them. Mirroring their image. That’s what we need to do. When you’re mirroring someone you’ll look at them in the face. It does become uncomfortable for a little while, and then you look down or look away, but follow them. You’re gonna be looking at them more than they look at you. This is a hard situation and that’s okay. But we need to make sure that every time they’re looking to you, you’re engaged physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

One of the last things that we do, is we stick around too long. We don’t know when to leave. It’s kind of a difficult situation. When do I leave? I don’t want to leave too soon, but I don’t want to stay too long. It’s really a tough call. And one of the best things that you can do is simply ask.

I remember being with a client one time. It’s a little awkward, even called himself a nerd. He was having a hard time and he wasn’t engaging with me at all, wasn’t saying anything. So I kept to my standards and kept quiet, but every once in a while he’d look at me and I’d ask him, “ How are you holding up? Would you like me to continue to stay here with you?” And he said, “Yes, please.” I was with this gentleman for probably about three hours. It was the onset of his immediate crisis. He probably said maybe, 12- 15 words to me in those three hours time frame. But every once in a while I’d ask him, “ Would you still like me to stay?” He says, “ Well if you want to go, you can go.” I said, “ No, I’m here for you.” He said, “ No, you’re really helping me if you can stay.” Then we’d go through another long period of silence. When I did finally leave, he reached over grabbed my forearm, gave me a squeeze. He said, “ Thank you so much for being here. Just being here made the world a difference to me.” I didn’t have to speak. I didn’t have to say anything. I didn’t advise him. And I asked permission to stay by asking if he wanted me to stay or go and it was real important to him. After his brother arrived and he had some company with him, he looked at me and he said, “ I think it’s okay now. You can go.” I made sure he was okay, said, “Are you sure?” “ Yes.” Then it was time for me to make my exit.

Particularly if we know the person that we’re trying to help, sometimes it’s even more difficult. We want to stay there. We want to be engaged. Good way to handle that is just say, How about if I give you a call in about an hour? You’re still holding up okay, I can always come back if you need me. And if not, I’ll talk to you in the morning.” Give them a definite time of when you’re going to call back, when you’re going to reach out. Don’t expect them to try and call you for help. They’re not going to. They’re not capable right now. Remember they’re anxious, they’re upset. Their anxiety levels off the chart, they don’t know what to do. So you’re providing the assistance. You’re assessing the situation to help them. So these are the three areas where we fail the most. We failed to be silent, we’re not emotionally present, and we don’t know when to leave. Now that we know these three areas, we can actually look out for them, be aware of them, and that way we can provide the support that our person in crisis needs most.

How to Respond In a Crisis

So what’s your immediate response? First, we need to assess what’s going on. What’s the situation you find yourself in? Your neighbor comes pounding on your door and says, “ My mom’s just fallen. I think she’s died. Can you come?” That’s an immediate response. You go over. You ‘re checking out the situation. You realize that your presence is the most important.

Your friend’s falling apart. The EMTs have already gone and left. She’s definitely died. But you just being there with her, is the most important thing you could possibly do. This is a ministry of presence. When you are physically, emotionally, and spiritually present for them, they’ll know it.

The other thing that’s really important for us to remember is our demeanor. Our voice is calm. We’re standing there with a good presence. We’re sure of ourselves. We’re the strength. Kind of that crutch. When that person reaches out they need to know that when they grab hold of you, that you’re gonna be strong. You’re not going to collapse with them, but it’s okay to go down to the floor. I had a woman look at me and start to collapse. I put my arms out, and she grabbed my hands and she just started to collapse down to the floor. I went with her. I wasn’t going to hold her up. There was no reason to. So we both went down to the floor together. I sat. She pretty much just laid down right there on the floor and cried. I left my hand on her shoulder just so she knew I hadn’t gone anywhere and just waited. I didn’t have to say a word. It wasn’t necessary, nor should I have ever said anything. That’s the most important thing. Your presence. Your physical presence and just being there.

The other thing is to keep it simple. She died. She didn’t pass away. She’s no longer with us. Just gone to another place. She actually died and it’s okay to say that matter of fact. It’s the best thing that you can say because we’re dealing with things head-on. Your friends in crisis, she
doesn’t know what’s going on. She’s confused, she’s anxious, she’s upset. That’s the part that you’re there for. To keep it simple. To provide a presence. And then we acknowledge it. Yes, this is bad. And she says, “ I can’t believe this is happening. This is horrible. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.” And you’re gonna respond by saying. “Yes, it is, you’re right. But together we’ll get through this. I’m gonna stand by your side. We’ll see how this goes.”

It’s good to acknowledge what has just happened. Then you can immediately come back with, “ I’m so sorry.” Do you know as I said something different there? I didn’t say ‘I’m sorry’ but I said, ‘I’m so sorry’. If you take a look and say it with me, feel your mouth change when you say. I’m so sorry. Your mouth actually has to change shape. The word ‘so’ is really important. It causes us to pause, to take time, and it’s impactful for the person that we’re talking to. It makes the sorry count. That it’s different and that’s what’s important. We want to talk slowly, we want to keep a presence that is clear. Our strength is just being there.

You know another situation would be if you found out about this, two or three days from now. It doesn’t change what we do. We still assess the situation, we realize what’s going on, we say I’m so sorry. If you sit at that kitchen table and all you do is have a cup of coffee for an hour and you say hardly anything, you’ve just given her the best gift possible. Let’s remember you’re assessing the situation. They’re anxious and we need to provide that support. Your presence is everything.

Keep it simple and know that you are there to support them physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Words Make a Difference

Words make a difference. Let’s examine those for a little bit. Let’s talk about the other phrase that people always get asked, “Are you okay?” It’s something normal, something everybody hears, “Are you okay?” But someone in a crisis, their automatic response is gonna be, “ Yeah, I’m fine. I’m okay.” Because that’s what we’re taught. We’re always to say, “ Yeah, I’m good. I’m okay.” When in reality, they’re very much the opposite. They’re not okay. And when you walk away, they’re looking around, shaking their head, saying, “Are they serious? Am I okay? No, I’m not okay.” And it really hurt. You didn’t mean to. No one else knows. What can we say instead? Great phrase, “How are you holding up?” It’s very different, huh? “How are you holding up?” One, it acknowledges that something bad has happened. You’re not discounting it. “No, you’re not okay. It’s not a regular day. Something bad has happened and I want to know how you’re holding up in it.” The acknowledgement is huge. It also takes a little bit longer to say. It allows them to know that you’re connecting with them, you’re showing up. It’s bad, but you’re there for them. It gives them the space to give more than just a yes-or-no answer. Open-ended questions will take you a long way in helping them cope and find hope. Which leads me into my next thing.

I can’t imagine. People say, “ Oh I understand how you feel.” “Yeah I know, that’s bad.” No, you don’t. You don’t have a clue. Why? Because it’s their tragedy. It’s their trauma. It’s their crisis. Someone else, friend of mine came up during the service of my step-sister and said, “My sister died too.” And I just looked at them and said, “Really?” Fortunately, she was a good friend and she immediately followed up. She goes, “ But not like this. I’m so sorry, Shelly.” Best thing she could have ever followed it up with. She acknowledged the fact that she couldn’t imagine my pain, my hurt, my family’s total destruction, and what they were going through. Because she knew that even though her sister died and mine died, it was still very different. That’s really important. We have to remember that we can’t possibly imagine what they’re going through. And as long as you can communicate that, you’re in a good spot. I usually say, “ I can’t imagine what you’re going through. This must be so difficult for you. I can’t even begin to imagine.” Anything along those words that are sincere, that go with you, is the best thing that you can say.

Another great phrase, particularly for men or those type A personalities, the rock of the family, you might say. Come up alongside them, better not to always look them in the eye. Give them a little more space. They are the rock. And you ask them, “You’re looking good on the outside, really put together. But how are you holding up on the inside?” Even lower your voice a little bit. It’s like, ‘Tell me the secret. It’s okay. You can talk to me.’ It gives them the opportunity to open up, be a little bit vulnerable, perhaps and give you the inside scoop on what’s going on. Help them express their emotions; help them get some of that yuck out. It’s an opportunity. It’s a great phrase, ‘ You’re looking good on the outside, but how are you holding up on the inside?’ Another open-ended question, allowing them to talk and for you to listen.

Practical Tools in a Crisis

When you learn emotional first-aid you get practical tools of things to say, things to do things that will help the person that you’re with, cope. Let me give you an example: Someone is crying, they’re upset. Should you touch them or should you not? There’s this very specific way to do that so you’re not patronizing and you’re also being really appropriate. That firm hand on the shoulder, a light squeeze. That engages the rest of their body back to the emotions that they’re having. They look at you. You can nod. You’ve given them that attention. You let them know that you’re there. You’re present. Then you can try and find a path to come up with some coping mechanisms to work.
One of the things that you can do to help them re-engage with the normal routine of life is actually to remind them. It sounds kind of odd but, “Have you been to the restroom lately?” You can tell, you can tell with a little child they kind of start doing the dance. It’s not uncommon to have to remind an adult at this time too. They’re in crisis. It’s a good thing that we breathe and we blink all automatically because I think some people would forget.

One of the best techniques that I use is to tell them to take a deep breath. They look at me really strange. It’s like no, let’s do it together. [Deep breath] Breathe. Then I remind them deep breathing is such a great thing. It brings more oxygen into your bloodstream. It helps to clear the head so they can start to think again. And I’ll do it with them multiple times until they get the idea. And it’s amazing. The eyes get brighter. They start to acknowledge. They shake their head, yes. The deep breathing really works.
The other thing is to look at what’s going on in their surroundings. Perhaps they need to have kids picked up from practice and they completely forgot about them. You know what, as that helper, that person that’s coming alongside them is gonna say, “ Did you need to pick up the kids? Can I get a neighbor to do that for you?” Notice how it was a question? It wasn’t telling them I’m gonna have somebody pick up the kids for you. Know by asking them a question in a phrase that it’s real easy for them to answer, you’ve just empowered them. You’ve given them hope that they can still make good, rational decisions. We’ve provided them the information but they can make the decision themselves. It empowers them and every little step helps.

One of the things I like to ask is, “ Has that dog had an opportunity to go outside and relieve itself?” They forgot all about the dog. There was one instance… We had a amazing woman that was cooking. She actually made the dessert first for her family. She made a pineapple upside-down cake. She thought, “Well I’ll just take a little slice here and have a little bit before dinner, no harm.” She went out to get her husband from his office and unfortunately she found him dead. She came back into the house, did your normal call nine-one-one. Not sure what to do. I was called out to help support her. She had the forethought of turning off the stove which shut down the rest of the dinner, but she had eaten that little slice of cake. When I got there she was acting anxious, she was confused, having a very difficult time. But as I was watching her as the time went on, I noticed she was becoming more stressed. She was confused and later asked,” Do you take any medication?” Her children who were just arrived about an hour before that says, “ No, my mom’s healthy. She’s fine.” I looked at her again and said, “Do you take any medication regularly that you might have missed?” She looked down and said, “Well, I am diabetic.” Both of her children were surprised and I said, “Did you take your insulin?” She said, “ Yes, but you know I did have that piece of cake before I went to go get my husband and we were gonna have dinner. It was protein. I was gonna be okay.” I knew that she could possibly be going into diabetic shock. I asked, “ If I made you something to eat right now, would you eat it?” “Yes, I will. I promise.” I searched this woman’s kitchen. Made her a sandwich. She actually ate it and she stopped. She looked at me and took another big deep breath just as we had practiced before, said, “ Thank you. I’m feeling much better now.”

Those are just day-to-day things that we have to think about for them. I didn’t tell her to do it, but I said if I were to do this for you, would you do it? Would you eat? I made it. Yes, she knew that was the bright choice. She just needed a little support.

One of the things we’re trying to do is help the client to start thinking for themselves again. We’ve talked about picking up kids and allowing the dog to go out. But when they start to think for themselves again, they remember that the trash goes out on Tuesday, the taxes need to be paid, that laundry needs to be picked up. And it’ll be really odd, they’ll come out at the strangest times. They’ll start to say something, “ Oh my gosh. We need to call Aunt Betty. That was you know, that was his sister. We have to call her.” “Grreat. Why don’t I write that down?” You write that down on a note and you start making a list. They will ramble on about a lot of different things. You just start making a list. I’ll bet they’ll come back to that same item again and you can reassure them. You can tell them that, “ You know what? That is on our list. Would you like to go over the list of things that we’ve been talking about? Perhaps we can prioritize. What you think needs to be done first?” When you do that, it empowers them. It gives them the opportunity to say, “ You know what? I don’t have to call Aunt Betty right now. They really didn’t get along anyway.” Things like that happen. You’ll be surprised when you review the list, it helps them prioritize. It helps them be in control. It helps give them hope for a better tomorrow.

Who's Who in a Crisis

So who’s who in a crisis? If you’re the trained responder, you know emotional first-aid. You’re coming to look and check out the situation. You’d be surprised at how many players there are.
So let’s look at the graphic and show that in the middle of that graphic is the event. The event is the crisis. It’s the situation that took place. Who is closest to that circle? It’s like the target zone.
So they’ve got the crisis in the middle. Let’s say grandpa died. Grandpa died, grandma is going to be the center of that zone. It’s the spouse. But as you go out of that just like a drop of water
ripples out, you have the grandpa’s children, right? Then you’ve got their children. So there’s grandchildren. You’ve got aunts, you’ve got uncles, you’ve got Bob down the street who’s been his best friend and has gone bowling with him every Thursday night for the last 25 years.

Everybody is a player in this tragedy. The key as the person coming in to assess the situation is to find out who all the players are, where does most of your attention need to be addressed? The real thing that we’re trying to do here is understand that we want the comfort going into the center. And we want the dumping or the complaining, the heartbreak to be flowing out from the center. It’s really important to know that when Bob from down the street comes in, now they’ve been friends forever. They go bowling once a week and have for the last 20 years. He is an important part of their life. But is he more important than grandma? You know that, it’s interesting. Some people put themselves right in the middle of the epicenter. They don’t mean to. They just do because their pain is real too. But where are the players that you need to pay attention to?

There’s only one of you. You’re gonna be looking for grandma .And if she seems to be taken care of then you can move out of that cycle zone. See maybe their children, maybe the grandchildren. But when we find out who all the players are, it’s important that we remember that the loving, the comforting, goes inwards towards the epicenter. Now our neighbor Bob, he’s looks like about level three. What you’re looking at at the graphic. That level three position means that they shouldn’t be immediately running to Grandma and crying on her shoulder. They can offer condolences but if it seems to be going out of sorts, it’s your job to step in and help redirect him. Let’s go over to talk to Jim who’s another neighbor, and they can talk. They can get together, reminisce. But now grandma’s not trying to support them just as much as she’s trying to hold it together for herself. We want to make sure that what we call the dumping out or the complaining, the crying, the hurt, is flowing to the outer circles. The outside of that ripple, where there’s more people to support, more strength to hold up with. And Grandma gets the support that she needs because that’s where the tighter portion of the circle is