Some trials and tragedies are a sprint and other are marathons, without an end in sight (or an ending we like)...and those marathons can be exhausting, the adrenaline wears off and time can wear you down.
Talking with friends the other night, one who beat cancer and one who is in the trenches of treatment, we started talking about giving and getting help. People want to help. Your family, friends, neighbors want to show love and support in some tangible way. But how? Or maybe you do not know how to ask for help.
Speaking from experience, asking for help and accepting help is very difficult. In the midst of the chaos, not getting sleep, grieving, worrying, trying to navigate bad circumstances, you don't know how you need help or how to accept it (especially if you have a type A personality).
Over the last several years with Brayden and talking with friends, I have learned some things...on the receiving and the giving of help.
- Let those around you help, really help. When talking with friends they could not believe they became "that mom" with cancer. They have been the person to help friends and now people are trying to help them?! I know I felt that way with Brayden. We are "that family".
- Even though you feel like you can do it, you can't. While physically you could take care of your family; many times you are emotionally exhausted. Sometimes you need to let others take care of physical needs so you can be there emotionally or focus on the more important things or just even get rest.
- There will be time in your life you have to let go of control...that may be harder from some than others.
- You are not a failure because you don't have the energy or capacity to do everything. It is not a sign of weakness, you are not perfect.
- At the beginning of any hard situation, people are reaching out, it is hard to communicate with so many people. Try sending out an email that others can pass on. A website that people can check. You don't even have to send out the updates, have a family or friend send out info (I know I wonderful Grandpa Fritz that fills in often when sending updates on D) and field all of the questions.
- Food, let people really know what you prefer. You can even put a cooler on your front porch for people to drop off, if you don't feel up to talking with each person that comes over.
- Actually ask for help and you can be specific. If you don't feel comfortable asking for help, have a friend or family ask on your behalf.
- Know that you and your family are worth it, you can receive help. There will always be others that may need it more than you, but there is a time that you need help as well.
- Give up the idea that you have to reciprocate...one day she will carpool and the next day I will. If you can't, then don't let that stop you from asking for help (this is my biggest set back).
- And do not worry if you house is a mess...let people in to help, do not turn them away because you cannot keep up with the house.
- Do not think you need to give everyone the details or talk with them about the situation. If you don't want to talk about it, don't and don't feel bad about it.
- Don't feel guilty about any of it. You need help.
- Most of the time asking, "What can I do to help?" does not get much of an answer. It is NOT because the person does not want or need help. Most of the time, they don't know what help they need. They also do not know what kind of help you are willing to give and they do not want to inconvenience you.
- Ask people close to the situation how you can help that person/family. They may be able to offer better insight.
- If you offer to help, do NOT expect to be-in-the-know. Please don't offer to bring a meal, if you want to be nosey. Even if you are nosey, try to hold that back. A friend shared about a lady from church offered her a meal, brought it over, pulled up a chair in the kitchen and had no intention of leaving any time soon.
- Do not offer advice, unless they ask. My favorite type of "advice" is a winding story about how a friend's, grandmother's brother's wife had such and such and this is what they did.
- If you really feel like you have useful information, put it in a email, letter or text. Because if it is actually useful, they will want to hold on to that info.
- Do not stop trying to give help. The grieving, pain, stress or situation does not go away by the time the meals stop coming. You can even just say, "I know you have help now but I will check in with you in a couple weeks". Then actually check in again and again.
- If you don't know what to say, say that. Just say I am thinking of you.
- Continue to invite them to events, it is still nice to know they want you to be included. We have a wonderful spunky friend, that invites us to so many of her big parties and we have only be able to go to one, but still nice to know she wants us there.
- Do not expect good manners (like a thank you card or offering you something to drink). Barely functioning through daily life, so manners are not really a priority.
- If you cannot offer a lot of help. You can pray. Send them a note or package in the mail, let them know they are loved. Send an email or text. Just let them know you are thinking of them.
Giving VERY specific help.
- Meals are the go-to way to help. Most people offer dinner. You could bring over things for breakfast or kids lunches as well. And be prepared to ONLY drop off.
- Send restaurant gift cards. It helps if it is a place that offers delivery or take-out, send menus.
- Offer to watch the kids, but be specific. Say, "I can watch this kids this Friday night or I can watch the kids for the next appointment". Or "I am taking my kids to the park, I can pick up yours". You can offer to take the kids or watch the kids at their home, they are going through the situation too and sometimes leaving home is hard.
- Even just help watch the kids so parent can take a nap or shower (I used to be so paranoid leaving Brayden unwatched that I would set up a place in the bathroom for him so I could shower). You could even offer to sit with the patient at the hospital so they can go get food or run home to refresh a little.
- Offer to get groceries (they can even order it online and you can pick it up for them, i.e. Harris Teeter) or run other errands...Costco can be overwhelming on a good day.
- Drop off a coffee or favorite drink.
- Offer to go with them and/or drive to appointments, even just go along for the ride (some appointments involve a lot of road time).
- Offer to be a note taker, if planning appointments, at appointments, meetings, planning services, etc. Having a extra set of ears that are not as emotional, can be so helpful.
- Pack them snacks, magazines, easy reading items for hospital stays, appointments or even just as a treat to have at home.
- Offer to just go for a walk.
- Help with homework.
- Offer transportation for children's activities. I know Carter and Luke did not participate in some things because I was not sure how to get them there or did not feel comfortable asking for a ride.
- Do laundry at their house or take it to your house.
- Send little surprises. I have a wonderful friend that sends me that funniest things in the mail i.e. Calgon, take-me-away bath salt, an "I pooped" button (and if I need to explain this, then you haven't read much about Brayden).
- Offer your expertise/hobby, if that is help with taxes, mowing, cars, handiwork around the house, house cleaning, etc. Again, be specific when you offer.
- Set up a sign up for things other than food. Include gift cards, mowing, laundry, child care, or other tasks that would be helpful to the family.
- Take the trashcans out and back. I know that being in the hospital, you can lose sense of time and would often forget trash pick-up days. Or clear off snow and ice, it is a wonderful surprise to arrive home and the driveway is clean.
- Visit, call, email, text. Give a listening ear, a hug or shoulder to cry on. But be available when they are ready. Do NOT expect a response back; sometimes returning calls, emails, etc. can feel like another task to try to get done in the day they do not have energy for or be up for talking.
- Pray with them, for them, send encouraging notes. It is so comforting to know that others are thinking of you and praying for you.
I cannot say enough about being to be specific. Opened end offerings (i.e. Let me know when I can help or Anything I can do?) are well intended but very hard for the recipient to know what to do with.
Give love, support and prayer, no matter the circumstance. And continue to do it. Please do not forget those running the marathons, a lot of help is offered right the beginning and over time it fades.