Last year when my grandfather passed away, I was inundated with messages of “how can we help” and “what do you need?”. I was grateful, and I was also too overwhelmed to give a real answer.
I’d tell them nothing, or we’re fine. What I really wanted to hear was, “Hey! I’m taking care of X for you.” I wanted them to know what to do, because frankly, I didn’t have a clue. Through that, I learned not to ask and just do.
We’ve all gotten the call that someone has passed away or received a cancer diagnosis, or one of far too many other instances that instantly, unexpectedly send a family into a health crisis. We awkwardly stand in a “where do I put my hands” stance, ready and willing to leap in to action, if only we knew what to do with the energy.
So here it is. The next time you want to help a family through the frightening, all-consuming unknown, make your call and offer your thoughts, prayers, or juju, and follow up with the willingness to do one or any of these things.
1. Organize meal delivery. Use a service like MealTrain.org or a shared Google Doc to manage deliveries and prevent three lasagnas. You can also call the family and ask which night is best to send over dinner (and if anyone has food allergies), and then arrange delivery of a meal from a local restaurant or site like GrubHub (just be sure to include a pre-paid tip when you foot the bill).
2. Restaurant gift cards. Share cards to restaurants near or around the hospital. Cash may be tight in these instances, and they could use a break from the hospital cafeteria.
3. Volunteer to carpool. Make sure the kids get to and from school, sports practice, or even sleepovers and playdates. When both parents can’t get out, it helps keep life normal for the kids.
4. Be the babysitter. Especially for young children, give your friend a break from dual duty as parent and caretaker. Kids who have been traveling with families from hospital to home may love the opportunity to play in a park, go for a bike ride or do something active and carefree, so put your frisbee and soccer skills to good use to create a few fun hours with the little ones.
5. Fire up a fundraiser. If the circumstances will become a crippling financial burden, rally the troops to raise money. Everything from GoFundMe.com to a lunch with silent auction can come together quickly and easily.
6. Mow the lawn. Do it yourself or pay for a service. Same goes for jumping in to collect newspapers or mail (leave a text or voicemail or Post-It Note that these tasks have been taken care of for the family.)
7. Sit bedside. The caretaker often sees little opportunity to leave their loved one. Be the one to hold the hand at the hospital, during chemo, or even in hospice.
8. Deliver wine. Let’s be honest, sipping a glass of wine can help anyone escape their reality even for a few minutes. Bonus points if you stay to share and let them vent.
9. Do the laundry. Run a load or two to ease the burden of this time consuming tasks. We’ve all been in the same shirt for three days at the hospital; ensure your friend isn’t one of us!
10. Run interference. If you’re particularly close to the inner circle, helping to manage visitors, take insurance calls or even run defense with medical staff will ease stress. For families who use update sites like CarePages or who have a Facebook page dedicated to an ill or injured loved one, your social media skills could be a saving grace for exhausted families who still want others to stay informed.
11. Walk the dogs. See that the pets get walked, fed, litter cleaned, and played with.
12. Make them comfortable. For the patient and caretaker, cozy socks, slippers, new pajamas, or a fresh pillow make a world of difference.
13. Just call. At the end of the day, just being present and aware goes further than most anything else. A call or text to say “thinking of you” can turn someone’s day around.
TapGenes Take Away: When your friend’s family is in a health crisis, giving them a hand is simpler than you think. Don’t ask, just do.
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