Tuesday Topic: What is Most Helpful When a Friend is Suffering?

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If you follow my One Thankful Mom FB page, you know that we’ve been praying for Rieden, a darling baby who had a liver transplant yesterday.

I have not gone through this, and I find myself wondering what is truly most helpful. So my question to you is:

In the event of a prolonged hospitalization or a death in a family, what can we do to help? What can we do to bring comfort?

We can learn so much from one another. One day every one of us will experience the loss of someone we love, or experience a prolonged hospitalization. We’ll receive a tragic call, or find ourselves sleeping curled up on a vinyl chair in a waiting room, hoping a surgeon will come with news.

Let’s think this through together.

Encourage one another,

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

0 Comments

  1. jacqueline
    February 4, 2014

    Volunteering to help out with the other family children. When my daughter was very ill and hospitalized, the help that came at the crisis moment was very appreciated. However, even more appreciated was the help (rides to activities, etc) that came for months later. It takes a while to get back on one's feet and that recognition was very validating and supportive

    Reply
  2. Anita
    February 4, 2014

    I think the support we give each other should be tapered for the individual/family. Some need money for travel (as your friend) and that brings them the most comfort. Others would like meals, child care, grocery shopping, cleaning, etc. My mother fought breast cancer for 8 years before it took over her body and she couldn't fight it off anymore. The most comforting of all, for me, was when a friend of my mom's "spread the word" that my mom was in hospice. This resulted in visits for my mom from people she hadn't seen in a long time who would chat and revisit the "good old days" with her. This made her final weeks pass surrounded by love. I couldn't have asked for anything more comforting for her (and me).

    Reply
  3. trhanna
    February 4, 2014

    When we had an extended medical crisis with our 6 yr old just 9 months ago that eventually ended in open heart surgery, I found facebook to be a great support for me..I could post in the middle of the night if he was in danger…friends would write just simple words saying they were praying…also sending Bible verses was a HUGE blessing as I found my mind too scattered to pray more than "HELP US LORD". Practical help was in the form of gift cards to the hospital that we could use for meals (I didn't know such a thing existed) and also meals for the family that was still at home 3 hrs away. I felt like Jesus was the only way we'd survive so knowing others were praying is what mattered most to me..and God was faithful to send rounds of help..so never feel like if you can't endure with someone through the entire trial, that your words of love or offers of help don't matter..because they do in THAT moment that the person/family needs. I also agree that help after the crisis passes is important because it's hard to find "normal" again and can take a long time.

    Reply
  4. Lori
    February 4, 2014

    As someone who has lost a child I think I can speak – at least from my own experience – to this question. First, I would say that even if you have experienced a loss do not assume you know what the person wants or what they are going through. Everyone is different. Be willing to listen, a lot.

    One thing I really did not like was people telling me that: 1) God doesn't give us more than we can handle, 2) This is God's will, 3) He is in a better place, 4) Joy comes in the morning.

    All those things may be true. Well, not number 1, but I'll get back to that. Someone who is drowning in their grief does not want to hear those things. Also, do not quote Bible verses from Job. Give them verses about God's care, love, compassion. Those are helpful.

    Be willing to sit. Be willing to listen. Be willing to pray with them and for them – a lot. Let them know that you care and that you want to help, but you aren't sure know how to do that. Ask if you can come and clean house, or do laundry, take a child on an activity, or pick something up at the store. Be specific, don't just say, "Can I help?" Do NOT try to act like nothing has happened. That is so uncomfortable for the person grieving.

    When you are grieving you do not think about eating. You don't have an appetite. Giving pre-made food that just needs to be heated up is great. Be sensitive when you drop things off as to whether or not they want your company. Remember, that the crisis does not just last a week. For us, after the memorial service we fell apart. The first year is excruciating. Send a note of encouragement a month later – and continue to do it every now and then. I wanted to know that people remembered my son lovingly and I wanted them to bring him up and tell me their memories they had of him. I also wanted to hear that we were being thought of and prayed for.

    If you see the person grieving don't say, "It's been six months, I'm surprised you are still struggling." Oh my. Someone actually said that to me. They will have hard days for years. I am on year 8. I still have hard days. Just give them a hug, tell them you love them, and pray for them.

    Which reminds me, I so appreciate when close friends let me know that they are praying for us on our son's birthday. That is always a hard day and it really does help just to hear that someone remembers our son and remembers our loss.

    Back to number 1. God gives us what we can only handle with His grace. We are, none of us, capable of handling the loss of a child without God's constant strength and comfort. God also instituted community and we have been so thankful for our church and the wonderful way that they have supported us. Just to give some ideas I will share some specific ways our church came alongside us. On our son's birthday, just three months after his death, they planted a tree near the church entryway as a memorial. On our first Christmas, church friends came over and helped us decorate our tree. Those two acts were very meaningful for us. You can't take away someone's pain at the loss of their loved one, but showing that you care goes a long way to help them heal.

    Reply
    1. Julie
      February 4, 2014

      Having lost a baby (full term stillbirth)– I totally agree with everything written above. Sweet texts from friends and cards letting me know they were thinking and praying for me meant a lot. And, to this day, it means a lot to me when people acknowledge our baby, when they say his name.

      Reply
  5. Corinne
    February 4, 2014

    Just a simple ditto on the gift cards to the hospital/cafeteria/coffee shop. The food is often expensive and who needs that burden on top of whatever crisis they're going through! If it's an extended stay, your friend may appreciate you picking them up for a brief lunch or shopping trip out away from the hospital just for a breath of fresh air. Staying flexible for them (and stating so) is a blessing in case a test or doctor visit comes up last minute and your friend would like to cancel.

    Reply
  6. Julie P
    February 4, 2014

    I have lost many people in my life. I just passed my own "traumaversary" of sorts–19 years ago Feb 1st, I said good-bye to my dad after seven long years of illnesses, hospitals, cancer treatments, heart, vein, leg amputation(s), and jaw surgeries. I said good-bye to the man who helped give me life, but whose life was cut short due to too much alcohol, too much pride, way too much smoking, and pretty much no Jesus. I also said good-bye to rushes home from college, signing papers to allow the next procedure to happen, finding good nursing homes and home health care, and eventually signing his death certificate and watching him lowered into a grave on a cold and windy Indiana February afternoon.

    Reply
  7. Julie P
    February 4, 2014

    I took care of him almost completely by myself from just past my 19th birthday until just after my 26th. I also managed to graduate college. The best thing anyone did for me at that time (pre-facebook, pre-texting, pre-cell phones), was be there. They called. They wrote letters. They brought food. They showed up. And in the middle of the night, on my basement stairs, I called into an all-night prayer hotline I had heard about. Desperate times… People showed up. They were there. And my employer was good to give me extra time (paid) to allow me to do what needed to be done to get my dad's affairs in order.

    Reply
  8. Julie P
    February 4, 2014

    When my brother-in-law died unexpectedly just four years ago this past Christmas, we were shocked and in horror. He was only 46. My in-laws found him in his home. No one should find their child dead in their home like he was found. Turned out that alcohol had taken his life too, only in the form of liver disease, according to the autopsy. We received the call around 8:30 December 28th 2009. We had just moved back to Iowa after almost 4 years in Georgia, and it was Christmas time, so no one that we knew was around. Like Trhanna, I reached out to facebook, but I remember specifically calling our neighbors who also happened to go to our church. We barely knew them. They had never lost anyone like we had. Yet, they came right over. Let my husband cry. And they prayed. We had friends come watch our dogs as we drove home to Indiana to say good-bye to the brother we both loved so much. And my husband's fraternity–most of whom are non-believers–heard–and showed up. My best friends from high school, as well as a few others I didn't expect, showed up. As we comforted our very young niece and nephew, people showed up. That's the key–the showing up.

    Reply
  9. Julie P
    February 4, 2014

    Our neighbor across the street died last week from the flu. He was 47. 47!! He left behind a 10 year old daughter and a stay-at home mom/wife with virtually no skills. Another neighbor learned of the tragedy and called all the neighbors she knew. We showed up. We shoveled her driveway. Brought her food. Cards. Hugs. We showed up.

    The key in the grieving is in the showing up. Whatever that looks like for the person who needs the help–show up. Follow through.

    Reply
  10. Julie P
    February 4, 2014

    My cousins died 18 months apart. They were 34 and 32, respectively. One from horrific cancer; one from a small plane crash. My uncle died from cancer 5 years later. My aunt has buried two sons and her beloved husband of over 53 years. In the past 7 years since my uncle's death, we (my husband and I) have continued showing up. We continue to visit when we can. I text her. She texts back. I send her pictures of the boys. She proudly displays them on her mantle. I text her pictures of the boys "in the moment". I call her and send notes on my cousin's birthday, my uncle's birthday, and the days we had to say good-bye to them. We are still "showing up", even though we are almost 7 hours away.

    Reply
  11. Julie P
    February 4, 2014

    Jesus was and is the best example of this–the showing up. He always shows up. He taught us how. Our job is to continue to show up for those who are grieving. And now, as we are helping my son who was born in Guatemala through another woman's womb overcome so very much trauma, we are showing up in the grieving. Grief and dying and death interrupt daily life. And that HAS to be OK, or the one grieving is left to grieve alone. Showing up in his (my son's) grieving over his loss has been the most challenging, because sometimes it interrupts daily life, like games, dinners, fun plans, school, homework, sleep, movies, etc. The showing up is the most critical part, in my opinion, to helping anyone through grief. Just like Jesus did.

    Reply
  12. Shari H.
    February 4, 2014

    I have heard that for long-term care of someone it's good to have a small group with different people manning different elements of care. For instance, one person can coordinate help with food, one person can coordinate transportation needs, another childcare, and perhaps another can offer medical help by being available for medical appointments and able to answer questions later (especially if the person is in the "deer in the headlights" phase. These elements can be coordinated through a website or other such media. This way no one person gets over loaded, burned out, and elements don't get missed. This is for situations that go for months, years, or even may be permanent.

    Reply
  13. Susan Patterson
    February 4, 2014

    Years ago, the son of a dear friend took his own life. Friends took over the mundane household chores, and others notified his university and relatives of the circumstance. But I can say from experience, when you're one on one, let them talk, let them talk, let them talk – it's one of the healthiest forms of grieving I can think of. And don't be afraid to remember birthdays and anniversaries of their loved ones. They need to know that people remember…. always.

    Reply
  14. wilmahatcher
    February 4, 2014

    My nephew just experienced a medically induced coma for two months as a result of sudden onset seizures. Along with his wife, my sister stayed by his side for about six weeks. Both are in the medical field and one of the most helpful gifts they received was comp time given by their co-workers. This enabled both of them to extend their time away from the job.

    My nephew is on the road to recovery and has returned home, although still in rehab.

    Reply
  15. Sami
    February 4, 2014

    My parents died a month apart, 5 years ago. I was 27. The church we went to didn't know what to do with me at all and I became something of a social leper. Literally people would duck into the bathroom when they saw me coming or walk a wide berth around me as to not make eye contact. 6 months after my moms funeral, someone said, "Hi! How are you?" And I burst into tears because it was the first time in 6 months someone from that church had asked me that question.

    Whatever you do, don't do that. 🙂 unfortunately I nearly had a nervous breakdown over the situation and thankfully my husband recognized it and we changed churches to one where we had friends that had been calling, inviting me to breakfasts and walks, praying for me. If it had not been for them, I might not have been able to continue going to church at all. 5 years later of course I wish I had stood up and asked for what I needed but at the time I was so broken I could barely think straight. God has brought healing now, but it was sad that I needed to heal from bitterness on top of grief.

    Just acknowledging the pain, no matter how awkwardly or imperfectly is better than trying to pretend it isn't there. It is a huge act of selflessness to walk along side someone in pain.

    Oh and Nancy Guthrie has a fabulous vimeo on grief. She is amazing! Very solidly biblical and God-centered, but utterly real as well.

    Reply
  16. Bonnie
    February 5, 2014

    I can speak to prolonged and repeated hospitalizations in a large family. My mom gave birth to #7, and then in the hospital they diagnosed her with cancer. Over the next 5 years she battled thyroid cancer, breast cancer, a benign spinal cord tumor, etc… etc … requiring 16 major surgeries plus cancer treatment. Then another 5 surgeries in the 4 years after that. I was the oldest at home (age 19 – 25 during the roughest years), and here are mine and my siblings thoughts.

    On Food: No more casseroles. They are nice for having a baby every few years. Not endlessly over 5 years. How about bringing a salad, some chicken and a vegetable dish? A big lasagna with bread and salad? Bring normal food. Just because you are going all natural organic whatever does not mean someone else's family will enjoy your whole wheat pasta with mayonnaise and green peas. (yes, that dish really did happen). Also, what about breakfast food? Or just bringing over a gallon of milk and some eggs? As the years passed, one of the best helps was a lady at church who figured out that my mom didn't want to keep asking people for help on her 10th surgery. This lady told her, "Look, I'm not gonna ask you if you need help anymore. Now, I've set up a rotation and your family can pick up 3 meals each week here at church, because we love you and know that you need the help anyway."

    If the family needs lodging and you offer it, realize that the siblings are part of the trauma too. The older kids may be on their 4th or 5th sleepless night from worry that the week may end in their mom's funeral. Let them sleep in and give them the respect in this time that you would give another adult. If there are older daughters, it might be helpful if the wife asks privately if they need any feminine items. They might be too embarassed and distracted to have asked their dad to buy more. Sure, the family should help you with meal prep and chores for an extended stay … but realize that they are also processing much grief and fear below the surface. Be sensitive to that.

    Reply
  17. Bonnie
    February 5, 2014

    On helping a family in their home. Yes. Please do. But do it the way OUR mom would do it. Don't shame us by walking in and exclaiming "This place is a mess! Let's get it all cleaned up for your mom. Now everybody drop what you're doing, come in here we're gonna do this first." Instead walk in and listen. Find the chore chart. Ask "what would your mom have you doing right now if she were here?" My mom was most blessed when she could call from the hospital and know that this child did their math worksheet and the older kids got their school done, too. Running a household is hard. The best help comes in quietly, sees what needs to be done, and quietly does the dishes or the laundry, or helps a younger child follow the list that mom left for them on the fridge. As much as possible, don't disrupt the schedule that would normally occur if the mother were present.

    Guys, call and support the husband. Long hospitalizations are taxing on the husband with the added stress of financial worries and all those bills that are coming. Men, pray for one another. Don't be afraid to call at 7am on your way to work and just pray over the phone briefly.

    Other practical help for the long term:

    Financial (obviously). Even with good insurance, the bills will still be in the hundreds of thousands.

    If you are a close friend, consider offering to come over and facillitate getting the bills paid (either watching kids, or helping to sort the mail, etc). When the mama's not home, credit card bills tend to get overlooked or lost and one missed payment equals INSANE interest rates on the medical bills that got charged.

    Reply
  18. Sara
    February 5, 2014

    All of these comments are really insightful. I also learned so much from this NY Times article : http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/opinion/brooks-
    It really helped me to see what ways I am most helpful and where I can direct my care.

    Reply
  19. Mary
    February 7, 2014

    Coordinating meals on behalf of someone else, including pick up. Sometimes you don't want meals coming into your home because that means people. People who stay too long or say dumb things or drain you of the little bit of sanity you might have (or not have). If a friend fills a cooler of food for you, or perhaps organizes that you have a cooler on your porch and meals are just dropped in, with no strings attached, that is a big blessing.
    And then the notes that come months or years later, acknowledging the memory of the person you lost, the grief you still carry and that in the normal activity of their day, they paused and entered your grief and wrote a note.

    Reply
  20. Lindsey
    February 9, 2014

    We had a very unexpected and tragic hospitalization last year, lasting 3 months, and many people helped by making food, cleaning the house, picking up kids, coming to the hospital to bring a drink or just be with us. I think its really important to remember that presence is a gift to those suffering. Silent presence is so frequently the best! I really struggled when friends would come to see us and complain about things going on with them. When you are really sad and suffering there isnt room to empathize with anyone else. Its also important to avoid asking for anything. The simplest of tasks can be so difficult and overwhelming (bring a snack to school, send a card, etc) when half of the family is in the hospital.

    Reply

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