Relationships Under Fire

Have you ever had your relationships tested by fire? I have!
Our family experienced a life-changing event on the August long weekend one year ago. This article is dedicated to the people in our lives who were there when we needed them most.

You see, that weekend our Condo burned down. We got out safely and were able to help others do the same. However, we escaped in our pajamas, and with only a few items.

It was very surreal to stand there and watch the fire destroy a lifetime of memories. I know many people in Kelowna have gone through devastation by fire, and my heart has always gone out to them. However, since our personal experience, my perspective is very different. Now I don’t just ‘feel’ for them, but I want to ‘do’ something. True empathy and compassion compel us to act.

We experienced that kind of response from our community. The people of Kelowna are amazing at responding to crisis.  While the fire was still burning, people began to arrive to help us. Yes, the firemen and emergency responders, from Salvation Army to the Lutheran church next door were all fantastic. However, I am talking about friends and family literally showing up to comfort and offer support. As the word got out, our email in-boxes and Facebook walls filled with words of comfort and offers of help.

The story doesn’t end there. Though the fire had done its damage within an hour, our family and friends responded even quicker. We were offered places to stay that very night, for the next month, and ultimately for the whole time we would be without our home. At this time, we anticipate about another year before we have our own place again.

The following morning was a Sunday, and our church and five others took up collections to help us. AMAZING!  The love continued through the following weeks and months, from offers of furniture to gift certificates for restaurants and grocery stores.

I honestly do not know how to even express the gratitude we feel.  We were completely overwhelmed by the love and support shown to us, often by total strangers. We saw the relationships in our life strengthened and new ones forged through acts of incredible generosity. I would love to name them all, but I doubt they would want me to do that. In fact I don’t even know the names of many of those who helped.

My point in this whole article is twofold.

Firstly, when you take time to develop relationships with people, they come through for you when you need them most. Sure, there may be times when people let us down, but for the most part; developing relationships is an investment that will bring a rich return. And the return on that investment is far greater than the risk. If you haven’t experienced that in your life, (not necessarily in such a drastic experience as a fire) then become the friend you wish you had.

Secondly, when relationships come under fire and are pressure-tested as ours were, remember that some people may not respond to you at all, simply because they don’t know what to do.  Or perhaps they think others will be doing it.  Let me share a few suggestions to help you know practical ways to respond to someone in crisis. This will give you the opportunity to be that person who steps up when needed most.

1. Do what’s in your heart!

Most of the time someone who is in crisis does not know what they need and it is hard to even make decisions. So when they are asked what they need, they find it difficult to answer. Just do the first thing that comes to mind, or ask a relative or someone close to them who may know the answer.

2. Try not to tell them what they need to do!

This kind of goes with the first, but is a little different.  People in crisis really don’t want solutions given to them from a hundred different people.  Saying, “You should” or “You need to” does not help.  Instead, ask questions such as, “Have you thought of this?”’ or “Would you like me to take care of that?”  Shock has a way of freezing your life, and you just need time to think and process it all.  Sometimes you just don’t know.

3. Understand that everyone responds differently to crisis!

Ask if it is ok to talk about it.  It is natural to want to know the details of what happened, but be sensitive and realize you might be the two hundredth person to ask the same thing. And consider this, I personally need to talk about it with lots of people.  I process out loud through communication, so I love talking about the whole deal. My wife, however, processes things quietly and she really does not want to talk about it. She decides when and what to talk about. So she withdraws. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel or need the support. But for her, written notes or non-verbal communication works best.  My point is, be sensitive.

4. Be full of Grace, It is not about you!

Everyone in crisis goes through a grieving process, and depending on when you see them, their mood will be affected by what stage they are in.  This means if they are in the anger stage, they may not be so nice, maybe even rude.  Don’t take it personally. It certainly does not mean they are ungrateful for your help.

5. Follow up!

Often it is when time has passed and the crisis is out of the community spotlight that the person needs help the most. There is no time limit to the grieving process. A letter or card sent weeks later really makes a different. I received a call recently just to ask how we are and to see if we needed anything. I was so blessed.

In conclusion, I hope these five points help you to respond to the people around you who may be in crisis. And I want to say to ALL OF YOU who were in our corner and continue to be there, THANK YOU!!  Your love and support overshadowed a terrible event in our lives, and we are SO grateful.