It’s not hyperbole to say that home is the one place in the world that you (hopefully) feel your safest, most private and comfortable. While having that “stuff” damaged and the hassle of real-world things like insurance is certainly a bummer, the tragedy is having your safest place violated, damaged — sometimes even gone. If you ever find yourself in the situation of knowing someone whose house has flooded, burned down, been broken into or even infested...here’s what to do and how to help.
If you hear about something bad happening, reach out with a real phone call and check in. Start helping by listening. Depending on their temperament and the type of home disaster, advice at this point (even helpful) might not be taken in the spirit in which it's being given. And even the typical things you might say like "it's just stuff" or "it could be worse" can be hurtful to someone just affected by a home disaster. But listening is always helpful and free to provide.
Connect with people who can help
One of the hardest things about seeing a friend go through house troubles that you've never been through before is not knowing how to help or what to do. But comb through your large network of friends and think of anyone else who may have gone through a similar situation. You can mine them for advice on how to be helpful or if they're willing, you can connect them with your friend so they can share information, company recommendations and more.
Offer to distract
It's usually not effective right after a home disaster has struck — and in some situations, downright inappropriate — but if you feel like you know your friend well enough and they might appreciate this effort, offer to take them out and distract them from their home troubles for awhile. Could be something as simple as dinner and a movie or something silly like miniature golf. But as anyone who has endured the constant tension of a home disaster can attest, even just a few moments of levity can help breathe relief into a stressful situation.
Get your hands dirty
If they seem okay with it. Plenty of folks would love help cleaning up after a fire and flood or some other disaster; others (myself included) are weird and shy about help when home is vulnerable and unsightly or get overwhelmed when tasked when assigning tasks to someone else (not sure what they should even be doing). The trick is to offer very specific help ("I can come help for an entire day or for a few hours after work") and be clear that you can help with whatever task, even if it's dirty or mundane, and let them set the tone and amount of help they need.
Help with what you can (and they need)
There are lots of ways to help. Offering to take the kids off their hands while they do clean-up work or run any errand they may need (offering your place as a laundry facility can be huge if they've lost theirs). Making food and buying groceries is always appreciated...unless they have lots of food allergies or they've already been given tons of food after the disaster. I like sending checks or gift cards so they can buy food or supplies as they need.
Don't stop after a week or two
After the last flood in my parents' house, it took almost a year for things to get back to normal. Waiting on insurance money, renovations, moving things in, moving things out, picking out paint colors...a home disaster happens in a flash but its impact reverberates for months and even years after. So check in over time to see if they need any help not just right after the disaster, but as long as they need.
Have you or a friend ever had a home disaster happen? What did you learn about giving (or receiving) help? What advice can you give to people who might have friends going through tough home troubles?