Nothing quite says community like a house fire. I mean it. What comes to mind when I say house fire? We see images of bucket brigades, the Red Cross, teams of firefighters working in tandem. We see neighbors out in the streets in their pajamas offering everything from blankets to water to hugs. Leave it to a few overly motivated church ladies and that family will have everything from bedding to clothing and furniture donated and gathered in a matter of days to nearly outfit a new home.
Let’s face it, here in America, we “do” trauma really well.
When natural disasters or a house fire happens, we know how to pull together like a well-oiled machine to support a family in need. I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a community that knows how to be that kind of resilient. The strength of a community is grounded in its resilience—its ability to adjust to and overcome a variety of challenges.
We are literally hardwired to help, with an innate yearning for a sense of being useful. And the wonderful thing about helping is that you feel better for doing it and the person you are helping feels gratitude for it, too. It’s a win-win for both parties.
But without a natural disaster at hand, we rarely have a way to be truly helpful at a time of need. We live in isolated homes and lives, and our culture has become so specialized in everything we do, that we tend to think very little of our own effectiveness. We don’t know how to help.
The perfectly placed wrench in your community’s cog can create an incredible opportunity for members to practice rising to the occasion. It gives ample chances to offer small nuggets of support based on your capacity at the time.
Death is always a wrench in somebody’s works. No matter how long you’ve known it was coming, it’s still a shock and a logistical challenge. When you activate your community after someone has died, or even while a loved one is in their dying journey, you give countless people a chance to feel good by helping. You are helping them as well as yourself.
So reach out in your time of need. Solicit help for grocery shopping, meal preparation, yard work, errands, selling the old car, sorting items for the estate sale and charitable donations, and more. When you set up a bouquet chain for your family to receive fresh flowers every week for the next three months, you are cheering them as much as you. See websites including caringbridge.org and mealtrain.org to organize help.
The burden is easier when shared. We yearn to be “put on a team.” We’ve just gotten out of practice on how to get there. Having a vigil before or after the death of a loved one—or hosting a wake—provides an incredible opportunity for your family and your community to rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of loss and fly. We certainly fly with more ease when we do it in the lovely formation of a flock.
Ashley T. Benem is the founder of the non-profit A Sacred Passing: Death Midwifery Service and the creator of the Art of Death Conference. She is an advocate for palliative and end-of-life care issues, empowering and supporting families to reclaim their right to die in congruence with their lives. Contact Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org.