Stepping away from the deep, emotional stuff temporarily, I will share some ideas about how to help a friend when his or her child is hospitalized. Aiding my aging memory were my wife, Valerie, and a friend, Kirsten McGonigal, whose daughter received a kidney transplant. Please leave comments if you have additions to this list below.
Coordinator – It starts with a coordinator to uncover the needs, then manage the network of friends and delivery of solutions. This friend might need to lovingly TAKE the position rather than ask for permission, as your friend may feel guilty in asking. The job requires effort, so multiple coordinators can share the load between meal scheduling, sibling care, errands for the house, managing social media and help at the hospital. This is our coordinator, Julia Moomau, and her husband, Steve; but don't contact them...THEY'RE OURS!
- Home Needs -
Siblings who are not yet driving still have school, extracurricular activities, homework, hunger and a desire to visit parents. Uber is a solution, however a family friend playing the part of deliveryman/cabby will give the sibling more of a feeling of security, familiarity and being cared for, all of which are even more necessary when Mom and Dad are around less. Also, provide solutions for getting the siblings time with their parents outside of the hospital room, even if it’s just downstairs at the hospital.
Clean house – For someone in the hospital for more than 2 – 3 weeks, volunteer to clean their house, or take up a collection for a maid service. The first time we were in the hospital, in 1995, a friend from Sunday school, who was an interior decorator, not only brought a cleaning crew to our home, but she also rearranged furniture and rehung pictures. Had she asked, we probably would have refused (more guilt). That said, we loved it. The yard is another opportunity to help. Valerie’s gardening friends have taken care of our plants when Val was away for extended periods.
Mail – The rest of the world continues. The utility company doesn’t care that your kid is in the hospital when payment is due. Collecting mail and filtering out the trash is usually one of my tasks, but it is easy for a neighbor to handle.
Pets need to be fed and exercised.
- Hospital Visits -
Dress Code - Don’t dress up. The person you are visiting may not have showered in a few days and already feels grungy. Women especially may feel embarrassed in their unkempt state, possibly lacking makeup, so tone down the clothing and makeup. I’m not talking Addams family, just nothing fancy.
Meal Companion – It helps for the parent to get out of the hospital room for a short time, and an opportunity to speak with someone connected to the real world is refreshing. Even if it’s just the hospital cafeteria, schedule a time to take the parent for a meal; or volunteer to stay in the child’s room while the parents eat together.
Care package – Any combination of the following: nutrition bars, fruit, lip balm, mouthwash, mints, travel toothbrush/toothpaste, water bottle, ibuprofen, gift card, lotion, sanitizer, socks, slippers, pillows, blankets, face wipes, deodorant, book (nothing where the character dies in the hospital), magazine, tea bags, individual instant coffee packets (hospitals have coffee, so this is more to spoil the person), sweetener (some hospitals may be limited in the variety of sweeteners; here in Texas, it’s occasionally limited to the pink stuff)
- Other ways to help -
Prayer – Look at everything else on the list. This is the easiest thing to do. Need I say more?
Meals/gift cards – Time, location and participants in a family meal are all uncertain when a hospital stay disrupts the schedule. When a child is in the hospital, the family may eat a regular, sit-down meal at home only a few times per week, and they may not know in advance which days that will be. Since friends tend to deliver meals ample enough for two sittings, probably only a few per week need to be scheduled, and fill in the rest with gift cards for flexibility. Additional meals can also be scheduled for delivery to the hospital, allowing the family to not only connect to the outside world, but share the food with other patient families. Meal Train is an online scheduler that can help.
Social Media – Facebook has been helpful in updating friends and family on our hospital status, and the replies we saw were comforting. Caring Bridge is also very popular for online status updates. During especially difficult times, it may help to have someone else available to manage social media for the family; and don’t expect the family to reply during those periods.
- Why? -
Many people say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” but I don’t believe God gives bad things to His children. The world does that, God will allow it to happen, and it may be more than we can handle on our own (this is a blog for another time). However, that is where friends and family can be His hands and feet to help those in need. For help received from family and friends, “thank you” doesn’t even begin to express my gratitude and how much I’m still thankful.
P.S. OK, maybe I got a LITTLE deep in this blog.