Support in the Form of the 5 Love Languages
Before I had children, let alone a child born premature, words like prematurity and NICU did not mean much to me. I knew people who had babies in the NICU, but I didn’t really understand what that meant for their lives and their hearts. I had heard sad stories of challenging pregnancies and hospitalizations, but I didn’t understand them further than trying to empathize with the person for what that must have been like.
That is where most people sit on the subject and thank God. It is better to not personally know, but to still try to empathize and offer some help even if you don’t know exactly what is needed. For instance, my college girlfriends told me they didn’t know what to do for me. I, like many people, have a hard time asking for help. When I am experiencing something challenging I have a hard time leaning on others as I tell myself that I must be strong, I’ve got it. But people everywhere helped anyways, they took initiative to reach out and offer support even when I didn’t ask for it, even when I didn’t expect it.
Those whom we see as strong and capable need love and support just as much as those who wear their troubles on their sleeves. People want to feel seen, understood, and empathized with, especially when going through challenging times. Whether that is having a child in the hospital, the loss of a parent, a career change, or a troublesome teenager—we all crave love and support from those around us.
I have compiled a list here of how one can show support to someone going through challenging times, and just for fun I have categorized them within the Five Love Languages as Gary Chapman explains them: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.
Words of Affirmation: Say something; silence is deafening. Refusing to acknowledge something big and hard in someone’s life can make them feel ignored, unseen, and unimportant. If finding the right words is hard, simply saying, “I’m sorry you are going through this,” or “I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know I’m here for you,” let’s the person know they are not ignored and their hardship is validated. If you are good and wise with words a text, or a call of encouragement (even if left on a voicemail), can be the pick me up they need that day. And if you feel you truly understand their situation and can offer words that will mean something to them, writing it down and giving them encouragement they can continually go back to can be a beautiful gift. However, this can be challenging as a wrong word even at the right time could make it worse rather than better. If you’re trying to pick them up by their bootstraps and they just need a day to feel sad, or they are feeling strong and you remind them how hard it is, or if you just say something dumb… well then maybe just an ‘I love you’ is best.
Acts of Service: This list can be limitless from dropping of food, cleaning up their kitchen, running errands, or watching children, there is so much you can offer to someone in this category. An added benefit is that it puts you around the person with a purpose and if there is more they need they can ask or you may just see it. These acts of service are not soon forgotten and while doing someone’s laundry or picking up take-out dinner may not feel like anything big, if it is done with love and a desire to support then it will speak volumes. The groceries dropped off, the meals brought to us, the childcare help, all of it made caring for our son in the hospital so much easier.
Receiving gifts: Sometimes gifts may seem almost inappropriate during challenging times, for the most part I disagree. If a child is sick, or has even passed, people are certainly not bringing balloons and champagne, but gifts can still mean recognition and support. A nice water bottle, snacks, a book, and something beautiful to wear for a nursing mom can make her feel acknowledged. A personalized stuffed animal or engraved frame can be cherished from someone after a loss. After our own Finn was born gifts that still celebrated his arrival and took care of us were so appreciated and made us feel a part of the new baby club. And after losing my dad my best friend brought me a glass dove that held a single candle which continually brought me comfort whenever I lit it.
Quality time: This can be a hard one when things are tumultuous, but never underestimate the power of sitting silently nearby. It can feel uncomfortable. Be uncomfortable. People sat with me in the hospital while I held my son and I felt so much less alone. If I needed something they were there. If it got scary they held my hand. They got me water, called for the nurse, helped situate my pillow….they were there and I will never forget it.
Physical Touch: Don’t let go first. Give them a hug and don’t let go first. Reach out for their hand, and don’t let go first. If this leads to tears, still, don’t let go first. You don’t know how much they need it. Of course this comes with some blaring lights of keep it appropriate, but duh, if you’re reading this you know that. You care. And they may say they don’t want to be touched. Easy—don’t touch them. But sometimes, it is a loving touch of comfort that allows someone to melt into it and release some of the physical pressure they have been feeling. Don’t let go.