18 Better Ways to Say ‘How Can I Help?’ After a Tragedy


Do you know someone who recently been through a tragic event? Perhaps your friend was the victim of a crime or natural disaster. Maybe a family member lost a baby. Maybe a coworker received a cancer diagnosis. Or perhaps your neighbor recently lost his mother. 

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When you see another person suffering, it's normal to want to help. You know that saying, “how can I help?” will receive more of a response than saying, “let me know if I can help.” But is there another way to offer support after a tragedy?

A person who is going through a difficult time may struggle to focus on what needs to be done. In fact, they may be in shock and unable to form a coherent thought. How do you offer support to a person who doesn’t know what they need? H

ow do you provide support to a person unused to asking for help? Here are some ideas.

‘How Can I Help?’ Messages for a Close Friend or Family Member

If you’re an extremely close friend or family member, your reaction to a tragedy might be quicker and more intense than other people’s. You may know the personality of the individual who’s suffering. This knowledge may help you figure out how to read the situation to determine what kind of help may be acceptable to the individual.

Here are some ideas of things you can say to your family members or close friends when they’re facing troubling times. 

1. Is it ok if I start a meal train?

Even though your friend is in emotional upheaval, she and her family still need to eat. If you’re close to the situation, you may want to simply bring several meals over without asking. If you can see that the situation is not going to resolve any time soon, ask if you can organize meals. 

You may also act as the intermediary between the people dropping off the food and your friend, so she does not have the added stress of additional social interaction. 

2. I’m going to tidy up your house. Is that ok?

A good friend sees a need and fulfills it. If you know that your friend or family member may have an issue with you cleaning the kitchen or doing the laundry, you may ask for permission.

Know the difference between an “I don’t want to be a bother” response and a “please don’t wash my clothes” response.

3. I will take care of the soccer carpool for the next two weeks.

Even though your friend may be going through difficult times, his kids may still have the same routine.

If you’re close with the family, volunteer to take over shared responsibilities, such as carpooling or snack preparation.

4. Let me take care of it.

As you gather around the person in need, you may hear about things that need to be completed. Volunteer for those tasks, and then make sure you follow through.

5. Do you want to stay at my house? Or Do you want me to stay with you?

Opening up your house may be the most loving thing you can do for someone who is suffering a loss.

Sometimes people don’t need others to do things, but they may not want to be alone. Offer your companionship to a person going through troubling times.

6. Can I call the funeral home for you?

Perhaps your friend needs a gentle nudge to take care of the necessary arrangements after losing someone unexpectedly.

Instead of taking over those responsibilities, you may need to suggest or remind your loved one of the tasks that need to be completed.

» MORE: Grief can be lonely. Create space for your community to share memories and tributes with a free online memorial from Cake.

‘How Can I Help?’ Messages for a Partner or Spouse

Don’t assume that just because you’re married to someone that they will tell you what they need. You may need to ask your partner how you can assist them through a difficult time. Here are some gentle ways to ask.

7. You know I love you, and that means I want to help you through this situation. What can I do for you?

Your partner may need the reassurance of your love if they’re going through a difficult time. After you give that reassurance, then ask how you can help.

8. I want to help you, but I don’t know how. 

Sometimes honesty is the best policy. If your loved one is suffering, ask how you’re able to offer assistance.

9. I’m here to listen.

If you just listen to a person, you can discover ways to help them.

Perhaps during the discussion, you might get an idea of what you can do to offer assistance. Sometimes two heads are better than one.

10. How can we solve this problem together?

You and your spouse are partners in life. That means that your husband’s problems (or your wife’s problems) are your problems. 

Your partner should not feel as if they’re on an island. Instead, work together to get through the tragedies of life.

11. Please let me into this part of your life. I want to help.

Some couples compartmentalize areas of their lives. Maybe one member of the partnership is in control of the finances, and the other is in control of disciplining the kids.

When problems arise, the struggling person may be too proud to seek advice or help from the other partner. 

12. What should our first step be?

If you’re experiencing a tragic situation, you both may feel overwhelmed. Instead of fixing the situation at once, you may have to do it in a series of steps. Work through the steps together, one item at a time. 

» MORE: An online memorial is a perfect ending to honor and celebrate someone's life. Create one for free.

‘How Can I Help?’ Messages for a Colleague or Acquaintance

You may not be the first person your colleague or acquaintance would turn to in a tragic situation, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be helpful. Here are some ways that you may assist someone you don’t know well.

13. Can I make a donation on your loved one’s behalf?

Instead of saying, “I’m sorry for your loss,” when your colleague loses a family member, ask if you can make a memorial donation.

Donating to a charity in memory of someone’s deceased family member is a beautiful way to express condolences. 

14. Can I finish your reports at work for you? (Can I help you with any of your work responsibilities?)

If you work with someone who is going through a tragedy, they may appreciate it if you take care of some of the mundane details of the job.

This may not be appropriate in every situation, especially if the offer may be seen as an aggressive move. 

15. Please accept this small token to help you reflect on the life of your loved one.

Even if you don’t know a person well, it is still appropriate to purchase a sympathy gift for them. Consider getting a personalized Christmas ornament, and inexpensive piece of jewelry, or a small angel figurine.

16. Can I help you gather supplies?

Not every tragedy involves the death of an individual. You may have an acquaintance who lost all her belongings in a house fire, hurricane, or tornado.

Perhaps you can help gather items they need right now, such as boxes, clothing, food, or water. 

17. Can I assist with serving the funeral meal?

It is common in many communities for mourners to gather after a funeral to share a meal. If your coworker or an acquaintance lost a family member, you might volunteer to help set up for the meal, serve the food, or clean up afterward.

This will allow the people who knew the deceased to share stories while you take care of the food.

18. Even though we don’t know each other well, I would like to assist you in some way.

Many times we hear of situations so tragic that we feel as if we need to act. We may not know how to best help the situation, though.

If you want to do something, consider purchasing gift cards to grocery stores or gas stations. Those are always helpful in a time of tragedy. 

» MORE: Online obituary that is 100% free. Honor a loved one beyond a newspaper.

Show Your Compassion

How do you help someone who is going through a difficult time? Be kind and compassionate. Don’t spread gossip. Be generous and supportive. Offer to complete mundane tasks. Respect their privacy. Offer prayers and loving thoughts.

Think about how you would want to be treated if the same thing happened to you. 

The next time you feel depressed about the state of humanity, think of all the helpers who arrive to assist after a tragedy. They’re making small donations to scholarship funds for children who lost their parents, or they’re quietly cutting the grass of a widow who lost her husband. They’re serving meals at funerals, and they’re picking up trash after a tornado. These are the people who are the light of the world. 

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