Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What to do (and not do) when someone you know is going through a difficult time

Since our recent stint in the hospital with Elijah, I have been compiling a mental list of the things that make our lives easier (and more difficult) when we are there. I absolutely do NOT place blame on anyone for not knowing these things. I didn't know them either until we became regulars at Minneapolis Children's Hospital. I compiled this list for those of you who struggle with knowing what to say or do to help a friend or family member who is going through a difficult time. I hope you find this helpful!

- Pray. This is the single most helpful thing you can do. Ask what specifically to pray for and PRAY PRAY PRAY! God hears every prayer.

- Don't ignore the situation. I understand that not everyone is comfortable handling difficult situations, but it really takes very little effort to provide comfort. Some of the most comforting messages we receive are super simple. "I love you and I'm praying!" speaks volumes. Send an email or text or leave a voicemail. All of these things are easy and can really go a long way. Also, do not avoid the topic in conversation. It is good to ask how things are going and how everyone involved is doing. Even if the situation is a difficult one, don't be afraid to talk about it. This paragraph applies to close friends and family members, and doesn't necessarily apply to acquaintances or distant relatives. That's not to say that acquaintances should not offer support if it is on their hearts to do so. I have had acquaintances do very kind things for us which has transformed our relationships into great friendships.

- Offer to bring food. Through all of the time we have spent in the hospital with Elijah, this has been one of the things that has been the most valuable for Dan and me. When our boy is sick, we tend to use all of our energy caring for him. We rarely think about our own needs, so having food brought to us is a reminder to nourish our own bodies. After some of Elijah's bigger surgeries, my sister-in-law sent out an email to our close friends and family members asking if they'd like to contribute meals. She then compiled a schedule/menu for us so that Dan and I were well fed for weeks. This was hugely helpful! (Tip: If you bring a homemade meal and the recipients are in a hospital, include paper plates, forks and napkins. Also, put the food in containers that you do not want to be returned.) If homemade meals aren't your thing, find out which restaurants deliver to the hospital and purchase a gift card from that restaurant. Snacks are also always appreciated. Bottled water, trail mix, a bag of candy or a tall cup of hot coffee are all appreciated consumable items!

- Avoid the generic "Let me know if there's anything I can do!" We have received many of these open offers and I know there is nothing but good intentions and well meaning behind them, but they are too general. What are you willing to do? Come sit with Elijah while I run down to the cafeteria or find somewhere to take a nap? Bring a meal? Chat on the phone so I can vent? Pray? Have Sammy over to your house for a few hours? Water my plants (if I had plants)? If you truly are willing and able to help in some way, there is a much better chance that your offer will be accepted if you are specific.

- Stop by for a visit! But please ask first. I am totally honest with people when they ask if it is a good day to stop by. If it's not, I will let you know. Most people will. Don't be offended if your offer to visit is turned down. Most of the time I will say yes because barring a medical concern, visitors help lift spirits. Be mindful of a few key things during hospital visits. Wash your hands before coming into the room (antibacterial soap is on the wall outside/inside of each room). Don't stay too long, don't be too loud and don't bring small children. If a nurse or doctor comes into the room, leave the patient's bedside and pause the conversation so they can speak if needed. And do not feel like you need to bring a gift. Your love and presence is enough! I know that it can be really difficult for people to come to a hospital. Your efforts are recognized and appreciated!

- If it is on your heart to bring a gift, get something you think would make the recipient the most comfortable. If he/she is in a hospital, bring age-appropriate comfort items or distractions. Some good ideas are stuffed animals, blankets, books, pillows, magazines, paper and crayons/pencils, handheld games, iTunes gift cards or journals. Balloons make kids smile. Flowers make mamas smile. There are certain units in the hospital that do not allow flowers, so ask about this before buying them.

- Have extra grace and don't expect replies or thank you cards for your gifts/efforts. If you send an email or leave a voicemail expressing love and support, begin by saying, "Please do not feel you need to reply to this!" When this line precedes an email, text or voicemail, I whisper to myself, "THANK YOU." Keep in mind that sleep-deprivation and lack of time are often factors in difficult situations. I am uplifted by and thankful for every single email, text, phone call, gift, meal and visit, but it is impossible to give a proper reply and "thank you" to every single one. These situations are unique and do not follow the rules in the etiquette books. Miss Manners' rules can be tossed right out the window.

- Be VERY careful when expressing your own opinions/concerns about the patient's medical care. This can be a touchy topic because there is a lot of grey area. We have friends and family members who are doctors and nurses, and I welcome them (gently) offering their thoughts about specifics regarding Elijah's medical care, but it can be irritating to receive opinionated comments from people who know very little about my child's medical history. I actually withhold information about some of Elijah's medical details because I cannot bear to hear things such as, "That doesn't sound normal!" or "Are you sure he should be walking so soon?" or "My Uncle Bill has only one kidney, too, and he's not supposed to be on that medication!" Be sensitive and if you DO feel compelled to express your opinions, make sure you are being helpful and do it gently. Keep in mind that there are usually anxieties involved, especially with a mother and her sick child. When I am sleep-deprived I become anxious and I do not want to hear about others' anxieties regarding my son! Please trust that the patient's medical team is looking out for him/her the very best they can. If you suspect that a major medical error has been made or if your opinions were asked for, forget this entire paragraph!

Be as helpful as you want to be! ANY amount of love is welcomed and very appreciated during difficult times!


jencooper said...

Great list! I love it. I found myself analyzing what I do/don't do.

Hope today is terrific!!

Anonymous said...

You have helped all who read this how we can make a kinder and gentler world. Thank you for teaching us. Prayers and hugs sent to your family from Katie Schwint's mom.