When someone we know and love is struggling, going through a hard time or in the midst of turmoil, most of us want to do whatever we possibly can to help.
We’ve all been there at one point or another. That feeling of helplessness when a person or family is in great need but we don’t have a clue what to do or what to say. We do our best based on our own life experiences.
At times, I have literally felt paralyzed by helplessness. Afraid to say or do the wrong thing, so I simply don’t. I’ve missed out on the true blessing of helping another person for this very reason. But others, who weren’t afraid, braved the unknown and did it anyway.
Last year, we were a family in the eye of a storm. We became the ones who needed help while our family and friends took on the role of braving the unknown.
Having experienced both sides of the coin – NEEDING the help versus needing TO help – I have concluded that neither side knows exactly what to do or what to say.
I’ve never heard, “What can I do to help?” more in my life than in 2014. The truth was…is…I honestly didn’t know. I didn’t know what would help, what to ask for or when to wave the white flag and surrender to the offers.
Just as you may not know what to do or say, it is likely that your loved one doesn’t even know what they need themselves.
It’s an impossible position.
The reality is that I have very little experience with it. However, our experience is still fresh and a number of people have sought my advice recently on how to help when someone they know is going through a similar experience. While each situation is unique, we wanted to share a few of the ways we have received support.
Let me be clear, the following wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for incredible family, friends, and even people we don’t know well. You are the ones who did these beautiful things and many more that aren’t written here. Our hope in sharing these experiences is that perhaps someone who just doesn’t know what to do will be inspired by what has been done for us. In addition to this being a tale of humble advice, it is also a way to say thank you. We noticed and deeply appreciate each a every thing that has been done for our family.
“Cheeseburger in Paradise”
The last thing on our mind was food. We would forget to eat or eat whatever junk was around the corner in the vending machine. But we had too many supportive people in our lives for this happen often.
Here are some ways people gifted us with sustenance:
- Family, close friends and neighbors who had our key/garage code, stocked our fridge and pantry with homemade meals, fresh fruit, etc. They always kept Cooper in mind and added a few kid-friendly options as well.
- One doctor brought two bags of various options from the hospital cafeteria to us in the waiting room while Audrey underwent her 5-hour emergency surgery.
- We received gift cards to restaurants in and around the hospital, as well as places close to our home.
- We had several dinners that were called in and generously paid for and we simply picked it up, a couple of times pizza was delivered and also paid for.
- Surrounding the funeral for Audrey, wonderful meals were provided for our family in others’ homes. We didn’t have to think, we were able to simply survive those unbearable hours and days because of the gift of food.
In our situation, we had big brother Cooper to be our best for. We wanted to keep him relevant and in the forefront of our minds and at times, the very best thing for him was to be with family or friends.We contacted his school and provided an updated list of those who may take him or pick him up. We could then send a willing person to get him in the case we simply could not. Several times I called and asked the school to let me to speak to him to inform him myself.
Each day, we sent Cooper to school with an extra change of clothes, a “Cozy” (what he calls his favorite stuffed animals) and a blanket. This gave us peace of mind that if something changed, whoever picked him up would have what he needed for the evening or a night. We are eternally grateful for grandparents who are involved and cared for him so well.
We also have friends and neighbors who had him over for play dates or sleepovers during some of the more intense days. It was easiest when someone would offer it even one time and then we knew we could count on them. It was also lovely when we got a text saying:
- “Hey, is it okay for us to pick up Cooper today and you get him on your way home from the hospital?”
- “We were thinking of picking up Cooper and going for ice cream and a park visit and then we can bring him to the hospital, does that work?”
We could reply with a simple, “Yes…thank you.”
“The Tide is High”
The laundry. ALL the laundry. Unfortunately when our world seemed to stop, the laundry didn’t. The days came and went and doing this one chore seemed impossible some weeks.
Not too long after Audrey was born and we knew that she was living but would be in the NICU for an unknown amount of time, a family member found a way to help from a distance. While they live out of state, they researched a quality laundry service. They coordinated with the company for us to place our laundry in a bag on the front porch on Monday mornings and it was returned to the same spot on the porch, folded and hung, on Wednesday. We didn’t have to be home or sign anything.
They generously provided this service for many, many weeks. I believe it was paid for by the pound. It is my understanding that you can do it for one week or all 52 of the year with no contract.
Other home care options:
- Offer and send housecleaners when you know the family will be home for a more extended period of time
- Care for their pets (walk, feed, water, play)
- Pick up the mail/packages each day
“The Grass is Greener”
This one is pretty simple and straight forward, coming home to a freshly cut lawn almost brought us to tears…well, who am I kidding…Chris appreciated it the very most, and pup Tucker I suppose.
If you cannot mow the lawn yourself, talk to a neighbor who has their lawn cared for by a service and see if you can have them mow the lawn of the family you are hoping to help.
Also, if you know they don’t have sprinklers, let the family know you will water their plants and flowers a couple times each week.
“Give a Little Bit”
We received a number of gifts that ranged from simple and fun to grand and sentimental. We’re grateful for each and every thing. When you spend your hard earned dollars on a gift, know that it will be cherished.
- Keep the other children, if any, in mind. Something to make them feel special in the midst of the attention being else ware.
- Plants and flowers are beautiful, keep in mind that they aren’t allowed in the hospital often times and they may not get the care they deserve if they are in an often empty home. Perhaps send these when you know the family will be home and able to fully enjoy their beauty.
- We received a boxed tree that we were able to plant and keep for much longer than most flowers and plants.
- When shipping/sending gifts, try to ensure the family does not have to be present to receive it. Or encourage the family to put a note on the door that directs the delivery person to take it to a neighbor’s home.
- Consider special jewelry for the mother, an initial necklace or bracelet.
- Wonderfully usable gifts we received were really well thought out baskets FULL of goodies including the following. (Note: We kept these at the hospital in a little closet in Audrey’s room):
- Granola Bars
- To-Go Peanut Butter
- Trail Mix
- Fruit Snacks
- Oatmeal To-Go
- Dried Cranberries
- Dried Apricots
- Individual Packs Crackers
- Beef Jerky
- Hand Santizer
- Hand Lotion
- Face Wipes
- Hair Ties
- Mini bottles of water
- Crystal Light Individual Packets
- Cozy, Warm Socks
- Cozy, soft blanket
- Gum (several kinds)
- Hot Tamales
- Gift Cards (Starbucks, Chipotle, Panera, etc.)
- A baggie of quarters for vending machines
- Notepad and Pens for Thoughts, Notes, Diretions on Care
- $5-$10 Gift Cards to Starbucks for Nurses who go the extra mile
- Travel Toothbrush/paste Kit
“Some Might Say”
- When you don’t know what to say, say that. It’s okay just to tell someone that you are aching with them and that you don’t know what to say. Just knowing someone is feeling it with them may be everything in that moment. So many days I have received these messages from our parents, family and friends, usually in moments I needed it most.
- We are logical people and realized that things could have been worse and that other families have survived worse. Although in the height of it, we felt like it was the worst. Our worst. Use wisdom and discernment when telling your loved one about a situation that may even be worse. It absolutely comes out of love, that is a given, it is a way to relate and to help them feel less alone. To the ones grieving, however, it can seem a bit like their feelings are less justified.
- Go one step further when saying “I’m praying for you”, do it – send it. Text, email, Facebook message or write a letter telling them what exactly you are praying for.
“Stand By Me”
- Grief makes people do some strange things. Stand by them anyway.
- They may be in a “bad mood” for an extended period of time. Stand by them anyway.
- They may avoid calls, texts and emails. Stand by them anyway.
- They may take a long time to make plans or commit. Stand by them anyway.
- Just show up. Making plans and decisions during a hard time can actually be more difficult than it sounds. The people in our lives that know us best did this. They showed up. They have never left our side. They showed up with a pizza and a box of tissues, they showed up just to listen and look through pictures, they gathered to pray, they texted to say they were in the waiting room and just wanted a quick hug, they drove and flew for hours in our moments of greatest need, even in the middle of the night.
- If the situation involves a funeral, make certain you sign the guest book. Our family went through that list and read each and every name. You may think it doesn’t really matter to sign your name, but trust me on this one, it just does.
In our case, Audrey’s earthly story ended. We don’t need food anymore, but a few weeks ago, we received a gift card for sushi. There are no more medical bills but people are growing the Wings for Audrey Endowment fund. We don’t need “stuff” but a few days ago a box of “just because” goodies showed up. Audrey has been gone for almost 6 months yet I just read a text from someone who is missing her still.
I pray I remember these gestures forever and pay it forward time and time again. I pray I am forgiven for the “never’s” and “I should have’s” in my own life. I realize now, because of all of you, that it is never too late to show I care.
Never is the only too late. A lesson I have learned only through the kindness and generosity of wonderful people.
When you want to help and just don’t know what to do, remember the simplicity of the GOLDEN RULE. It works like a charm.
Perhaps an entirely different post could be addressed to those who ARE in a storm. Things I wish we had asked for, things we wish the hospitals had or did, a check-list of things to do when your baby dies…dark, I know…but no one had that for us. We just had to figure it out. Someone has to take it on…pay it forward, right?
Love + Hugs,