Friday, June 14, 2013

How can you help???

Let's face it...at some point in your life, unless you're a hermit, you will know someone who faces a tough situation, whether it be cancer, injury, death in the family, etc. In those times, sometimes it's hard to know what to do. How exactly can you help, what would be beneficial and what could just be more stress for your friend/family member. It was suggested that putting together a post on ways to be a good friend to someone going through hard times might be helpful. So, here goes...

First and foremost, prayer is the most important thing. Even if the person you are praying for is not someone of faith, the idea that you are putting them on the top of your prayer list will mean a lot. However, this is not a cop-out for you to get out of any practical help. This should just be a given.


Here are just a few ways that you can make such a huge difference in someone's life.

1. Meals - This is such a practical way to help in so many different circumstances, whether someone is sick, a family member has passed away, a new baby in the family...even just a friend having a really bad day. There is nothing like food to lift the spirits. There are a lot of great ways to organize a meal plan...my favorite is  http://www.takethemameal.com/ It's an easy way to get people signed up...you can note any allergies or delivery requests. It's usually a good idea to have a point person taking the lead and coordinating. Ask your friend if anyone is taking care of the details...if not, that's your cue. ;) It also helps avoid any redundant meals. The typical schedule is 3-4 meals per week, for about 3 weeks. Of course, that all depends on the circumstances. The website also has a lot of practical ideas for helping someone going through a difficult time. As someone who has been through a lot and been helped a lot, I can say that there are some great suggestions. They also have food ideas and recipes if you're not sure what would be a good meal to bring someone. Freezer meals are great too...especially if say a hospital is involved and they might not be able to eat the food that day...but having food in the fridge that can be pulled out as needed could be a real stress reliever. One of the things that TakeThemAMeal mentioned as well was the idea that meals could be dropped off and placed in a cooler by the door if the recipient wasn't up for talking to anyone. Again, there are a lot of ideas and options out there. You should be able to tell if the person is ready to see people or not. Another idea, especially for those of you out there who don't love to cook, delivery is a great option! They will be happy not to have to cook or worry about dinner that night...they won't be judging you...lol I have had someone bring us pizza from the grocery store and I was thrilled!

I've made this meal for new mom's before...it's delicious!

Oh, I almost forgot...if at all possible, please, please, please bring disposable packaging for the food. It really is less stressful to not have to worry about getting pots/pans/dishes back to the correct owner. Also, paper goods are awesome when included. Getting dessert is such a bonus. Sometimes when I bring a meal to someone, I try to include snacks, or condiments, fruit...even breakfast items like bagels...thinking outside the box to try to meet a practical need.

Following on that same note, care baskets are great and practical. You can tailor the packages again, based on the actual circumstances. For example, a mom to be would appreciate more pampering type things like lotion, hair bands, chapstick, socks.... Someone who is hanging out at the hospital for any extended period of time would appreciate a snack basket with things like popcorn, granola bars, crackers, fruit, water, roll of coins for vending machines, light reading (think magazines), etc. Someone who might be undergoing chemo treatment could use hard candy, water, crackers, ginger ale (or similar).  If you know a child might be going, things like crayons and notepads, small toys, stickers, and gum. Really, you could run with the idea based on the person that you're making it for. Not to mention, just the fact that you cared enough to think about them in this way to can really brighten their day!

2. Childcare - This is a giant concern for anyone with kids, especially if they don't have family nearby. Regardless of whether it's a joyful occasion like childbirth, or more difficult situations, having to find someone to take care of your children can be really stressful! Even just driving them to school and back...or taking them for just an hour can be a lifesaver! Speaking from experience, it's hard to think of people that you don't mind dumping your kids on...so if you would be willing, make sure that they are aware of that! Otherwise, it can feel like too much of an imposition and they may or may not ask. Really, as soon as you are aware that childcare could become an issue, if that's something that you feel you could help with, make sure they know!


3. Presence - Sit with them, wherever they are...waiting rooms, hospital rooms, bedrooms, living rooms. Your time and simple presence will mean the world! Both times David had surgery, my father-in-law was there the whole time, and I had friends who came by both times also. Even if it's just for a short time...it makes such a difference! The human connection can sometimes mean more than anything else...you're not alone! Severe illness/accidents can make someone feel so isolated, and sometimes they may not want to talk. That's fine, just sit with them.

4. Money - this is more for an unexpected emergency. Your friend probably isn't going to say that they're having a hard time...but most of us aren't prepared for life changing events. Even a death in the family can cause financial hardship. It doesn't have to be a big deal, or a large amount...but I don't know that anyone would be offended under the circumstances. When David underwent his first surgery, guys at his work raised money for him. Friends from across the country sent money as well. It was greatly appreciated. Even though at the time of the first surgery, we weren't doing poorly, there were a lot of unexpected transactions, not to mention weeks of missed work...so it was all greatly appreciated.

5. Gift Cards - this runs along the same lines as the money. Gift cards are extremely practical! You can get them to, say, Target or Walmart, the grocery store, restaurants, gas card, etc. I received a grocery card; that was so nice to be able to run and get groceries without having to worry about anything. Same with Walmart. Restaurants are great because they might not use it right away...but later after the meals have stopped coming, its a nice ace to have in the pocket for those nights that making dinner is just too much.


6. Yard work/housework - This is such a help! Depending on the season, mowing the yard, shoveling snow, heck, planting flowers even.... This is seriously the last thing on their minds, but coming home to a well kept yard is a relief. I know I told y'all about coming home from NYC  for the first time visiting Sloan Kettering, and my friends had dressed up the entire front of my house with flowers, mums, corn stalks, pumpkins etc. It was beautiful and I may or may not have cried like a baby. Same with housework...although this will depend on the person. Some people might not want anyone messing with their stuff, or they might be embarrassed. Let me tell you right now, if you want to come do my housework, I will allow you gladly! hahahaha! Dishes are always a good bet...that's not too personal, IMO.


7. Call/text/email/FB - This is similar to visiting them...basically reminding them that they are not alone and you are thinking of them. Again, these huge life events can be very isolating. The world view can get narrowed to the specific concern and it's nice to be reminded of friends' concern.

8. Help the Caretaker! This one is more for if you are friends with the caretaker...sometimes, they really need a break. While they are not the ones ill, they are the ones responsible for the household, kids, the individual who needs care taking, etc... Depending on the illness/surgery...they might really need a break. Offer to sit with the invalid so they can get out for an hour or two. Volunteer your husband and take her out for Girls night. Whatever it takes...they need a break. After David's surgeries, he was not supposed to be alone for the two weeks following. The doctors were worried about infections and falls. Luckily, I had family and friends who were willing to help out and I was able to get out every now and then. And really, two weeks isn't that long. But for someone who might be in a long term caretaking situation, please, get them out of the house!


9. Don't forget them in the months to come - I have to admit, I'm as guilty of this as anyone. It's easy once the shock has worn off, or hospital stay comes to an end...to just move on. But in cases of severe illness or a death of a loved one...life is changed forever. Oftentimes at the beginning, there's too much to do to really sit and think about what this might mean for your life. Mourning is delayed, grief of a different path that will be your life from now on doesn't set in all at once. Even though everyone else has moved on or forgotten, for that person, they will never completely move on. Yes, they will adapt and adjust and life will be OK...but it will not be the same. There is a new normal. For myself, I'm hopeless without my phone calendar...if it's not written in there and the reminder doesn't go off...it's not gonna get done. I would suggest either making a note for a few months from now, whether in your phone, your regular calendar, whatever works for you...but make a note to either send a card, or touch base in some way with your friend to let them know, "I haven't forgotten, I still care, I still pray, I love you." You will be a hero to them.


OK, on to a few things that are not my favorite. Everyone is different, so I'm not saying this will bother everyone, but for me...not my favorite.

 - Never ask "what can I do?" At this point, the person is so stressed, or grieving...they're not gonna know what to tell you. Or else, they can't think of anything on the spot, but it might be too hard to ask for help later. I know for myself, I have a hard time asking for help...and I think most of us do. I've gotten a little better about it, but still, I'll usually say OK, and never ask. If there is something specific that you are willing to do, let them know. Say, I'd love to take the kids next week...or I'm going to bring you a meal...or I would like to mow your lawn...or whatever. If you have something that you are good at, and it would benefit them, by all means, offer your services. Take the initiative and they will be much more likely to accept the help.

-  The most common question I get is how are you doing, or how is David doing? If someone asks you that, what would you answer? Mine is usually "fine" or "good, how about you?" Maybe it's just me...but it's hard to going around saying I'm so stressed or sick of this, or whatever...to show weakness. And I know that's a failing on my part...but again, I think a lot of us are like that. I think a better question is to ask, is there anything specific you'd like me to pray for...or, is there anything new that you'd like to share...or a variation on that. Specific questions are always better than broad...if you ask a broad question, you'll get a broad answer. It's like asking your kids, how was your day...what do they say? "Fine." Be specific.

 - Another suggestion, especially if you are at all close with the person, is to get familiar with their situation. If there has been a diagnosis, read up on it...be proactive about getting information. However, that does not mean to talk about it all with them, but just to be familiar with the disease. Don't go talking about the negatives with them either...I guarantee they already are aware, and they don't need the reminder. It's more for you to know how grave or good the situation is. If they are willing and show the urge to talk about it, then you'll be ahead of the curve and again, they will know that you cared enough to find out more information on your own.

 - Going along with this, never ask questions about prognosis, etc. If they are willing to share that with you, they will. Otherwise, butt out!

 - Also, on the flip side, don't assume that things are all better after treatment, or after surgery, or what have you. Just because you haven't heard anything, don't presume that all is well. I've had comments, and my friend who is in a similar situation, has heard numerous times, "I'm glad everything is better." Well, how do you know that? Unless they are shouting it from the rooftops, I would never assume that someone with a serious illness has recovered. They might be doing well, or no changes, or even might be worse. It's hard to know that some people think everything is fine, or back to normal, when it isn't. A lot of times, even if the person seems fine, in reality, they're in it for the long haul and things are never normal. They might be doing really, really well, all things considering, but the specter is always there. I'm not saying don't comment on how well they're doing, just don't make it seem like now everything is all better and no worries, everything is back to normal.

 - Watch how you phrase things...this is probably nit picky, but it means more if someone tells me that I'm doing a great job, etc, rather than "I don't know how you do it." Probably nothing, but I don't know how I'm doing it and if I stop to think about it, I might not do it anymore...not really, but you get the idea. It can be overwhelming when you're reminded of how overwhelming the situation is...if that makes any sense. I dunno, it's probably just me.

 - And lastly...I often get the sentiment of "you don't know how good you have it till you see someone else going through a hard time" with the understanding that I'm the one going through the hard time and they're the one that has it good. While I totally understand, and have even thought the same thing about other's inspiring stories...nobody wants to be the story. LOL...it's vaguely depressing to know that your hard times are the reason someone else feels good about their life. And again, it's not bad and I don't take it personally, it's just like, argghhh...I don't want to be that girl!

Really though, people know if your heart is in the right place, so don't get too caught up in this either. It's better to be there and maybe not say things perfectly, than to not be there at all!

So, these are some of my thoughts and ramblings on some practical ways that you can make a difference in the life of someone walking through the valley. I would seriously love to hear any ideas that y'all might have the either have helped you or that you have done for someone else...so please comment away!