Friday, February 28, 2014

7 Quick Takes: What You SHOULD Do For Someone Facing a Health Crisis

5 posts down, 2 to go!  

I'm just chugging along and joining all the links ups I've been telling myself I should join and then never got around to it.  Today I'm doing a double Fulwiler.  I'm pretty sure that's what it's called in the biz.  I'm doing 7 posts in 7 days AND since it's Friday I'm also doing:

Also hosted by Jen Fulwiler
Yesterday I talked about what you should NOT say to someone facing a health crisis.  Thank you everyone who contributed to the conversation.  I mentioned in that post that everyone faces difficulties differently and that that list was from my perspective.  Well, after talking to my friend Sarah, you'll be surprised to see that 2 of my don'ts are also on my list of dos.

In order for this to make sense you need to know that my friend Sarah is a complete weirdo, otherwise known as an Extrovert.  She took an MBTI personality quiz just so I could be 100% accurate on my blog because that's what good friends do, waste time on the internet for someone else's blog.  Anyway, for reference, Sarah is an ESFJ and I am an INFP which means we are completely opposite except that we both favor Feeling over Thinking.  All that to say, we are so so different from each other that our running joke is to call each other "Weirdo" and ask "How are we friends?", but we are dear dear friends.  Anyhoo, Sarah told me today that she experiences "How are you?" and "I can't imagine" totally differently than what I described, and Sarah has faced some true hardship in her life.  So, to make things really confusing, here are the things you SHOULD say or do for someone facing a health crisis:

1.  Say "I can't imagine."

Confusing right?  I know.  I'm going to quote Sarah now (with her permission):
I know I say that one but I don't feel like I say it in a way that is looking to be comforted.  I say it in a "I have never gone through what you have been through so I can't say that I understand so I am not going to pretend I do."...I feel like it is annoying when someone acts like they understand your situation when they really don't.
I get what Sarah is saying here.  I don't think anyone who says this is purposefully trying to make the patient or caregiver they are talking to comfort them.  I know they are trying the exact opposite, and I stand corrected, because for some it really is a sentiment they appreciate hearing.  Sarah went on to say that when people expressed this sentiment to her it made her feel like she wasn't carrying her difficulties alone.  I guess a good policy is to reflect on what you know about the person who's facing the health crisis.  If you don't know them, my instinct is to just stick with "I'm sorry you're going through this".

2.  Ask "How are you?"

See above.  I really don't know exactly what to think of this.  It is so foreign to my personal instincts, but I do know Sarah and I know that if she were going through something difficult this would truly be an important way to love and support her.  If Sarah is this way, I'm sure there are many others like her who read my advice yesterday and were like "What the heck?".

I think that after reflecting on reasons you should or should not say "I can't imagine." and "How are you?" the conclusion I've come to is this:  if you know this person well, do what you think best fits their personality and what you know about them and that you aren't saying one of these things because it's what you would want or because it's what you want in that moment.  If your goal is to love that person, even if your foot ends up in your mouth, you are still doing the right thing.  So now, on to the rest of the list of things you should do:

3.  Pray

I know that, even if you are a believer, there are times when praying doesn't seem like enough.  There are times that "I'm praying for you." sounds trite and like something that people just say.  Please, please, please, if you do nothing else, pray for their healing, pray for guidance, pray for their peace of mind, pray for comfort.  Please pray.  I cannot overstate the power of your prayers.  I cannot overstate the tangible support and relief your prayers offer that no other gesture or statement can even touch.  If you are not a believer, when you tell someone you are thinking of them, that you are sending love and light or good vibes, or a myriad of other similar sentiments, please do not doubt the efficacy of these offerings.  Not only do these prayers and similar offerings lift up the recipient at that moment with their love, they truly have lasting effects.  There is no real way for me to convey it except to say that up until my cancer diagnosis my belief in the power of prayer was largely on blind faith, but now, having walked through that valley, "I was blind but now I see".  "The power of prayer" is not a catchy phrase, it is the most egregious understatement of all time.  In fact, prayers and well wishes and good intentions are the reason that "you can't imagine", because when you try to imagine it you are not factoring in the effects of the very real prayers and grace you will benefit from when you are in the thick of it.  It is beyond human understanding.  So please, if you do absolutely nothing else, pray pray pray and rest assured you have contributed the single most important thing you have.

4.  Reach Out

If you hear that someone you know is facing a crisis, even if you haven't spoken to them in a very long time, even if you only know each other through friends of friends, even if you've never actually met them in real life--if you feel moved to reach out to them to offer encouragement, just do it.  Don't worry that it will be weird, or awkward, or intruding.  I know that after all I've said about being private and introverted and concerned about burdening people this sounds counter-intuitive, but so many people reached out to me in big and little ways after many years and over many miles and every single time it was so uplifting.  Send a card, a note, a Facebook message, an email, a tweet, whatever.  Don't feel weird.  I felt so loved and supported and I was delighted every time someone reached out to me to say "I'm thinking of you, I'm praying for you, I'm here for you.".

Let's get practical, practical...
I should be banned from Google Images.  Moving on.

5.  Meals

Who doesn't love food?  The Terrorists.  No really, this is a 1/2 brainer.  I was going to say no brainer but there are a few things you should keep in mind to make this as easy and helpful as possible.  First of all, be sure you know of any dietary restrictions.  After you know what the family can and cannot eat, it's great to coordinate with others as much as possible.  When the enormity of our situation became apparent, some dear friends (including the previously mentioned Sarah), got together to plan amongst themselves how they could best serve our family.  The idea they came up with was genius.  Very often when a Mom has a baby, her friends and others around her will put together a calendar using a program like Care Calendar.  This is a great option, but when a family is facing something that will last more than a month or two, it can become really difficult to manage continuous, consistent help no matter how badly you want to.  If you have young kids and all of your friends do, which is our situation, no matter how much you'd like to think you could keep up the pace of providing meals for months on end, it is really difficult.  My super smart friends figured out that if everyone who wanted to contribute meals made a frozen meal or two and dropped them at the homes of a few "Meal Coordinators" who had deep freezers,  many more people could contribute consistently over the long term.  It eliminated the hassle of trying to get a meal ready on a certain day for a certain time when lets face it, it's hard to do that for your own family most of the time.  It made it possible that on a day when things were going well in one of my friends homes and things were clicking along they could double or triple the recipe they were already making and freeze it and voila, they fed our family for a few nights instead of just one. It eliminated the hassle of moms with young families having to pile everyone into the car during the crazy dinner hour.  It also offered more privacy to my family during a time when things were constantly disrupted.  Once a week one of my "Meal Coordinator" friends would email me and say "How many meals do you want this week?" and then would drop off what we needed.  That way, if Michael was home and wanted to cook (because he is amazing like that), he could do that and we could use the meals when it was best for us without worrying about anything going to waste.  What if you want to drop a fresh meal?  What a treat!  That is always welcome too.  

What if you're far away?  Well, one of the most humbling gestures I received was from a dear lady I used to cheer with in college who now lives far from me.  I was not always very kind to this loving soul.  It shames me to say that.  She got in touch with another dear friend who is still near me and arranged to have a whole Panera Bread lunch sent to me so that I wouldn't have to worry about getting lunch around for the kids one afternoon.  I can't begin to express what a fun, generous blessing this was to receive.  So if you're far away, send something!  We also received edible arrangements and grocery store gift cards and grocery bags full of staples and all were such blessings.  All of these things lightened our load and helped us to focus more on the task of getting better and to focus on each other rather than the practical aspects of feeding our family.

6.  Hire Someone To Do Housecleaning

I'm not very adept with PicMonkey yet.  PS, this is not really my house but all Moms know how fast this could happen.
The other amazing thing that Weirdo Sarah (xoxo) arranged for us was weekly housecleaning.  You read that right.  She collected money and arranged for a very adorable, very sweet, very efficient young lady to come to our house for 3 hours every week to clean up.  In those three hours she picked up, vacuumed and washed our downstairs floors (our entire downstairs is tile and hardwood), cleaned the downstairs 1/2 bath and the kids full bathroom upstairs, vacuumed the stairs and upstairs hallway, wiped down my kitchen cabinets and island bar stools.  If it had not been for her our house really would have looked like that picture up there.  Moms out there I know you feel me.  Even if you can't manage to get together funds for a weekly cleaning like this, even if it's just one time, it is such a blessing.  You don't need to hire a professional service, find a college or high school student.  Ask around at your church, your local Newman Center, or a local homeschool group.  This kind of help isn't always easy to accept, but it is vital, especially when a young family is facing a crisis.  

7.  Expect Nothing In Return

The kind of whirlwind that ensues when you or a loved one gets a life changing diagnosis is all consuming.  Sometimes you will send a note or an email or a gift and hear nothing.  I'm still haunted by times I've not responded to kindness in a timely manner.  In my case the reason for this is two fold, first, because when part of the time you are not capable of much of anything but the very bare minimum (at times the bare minimum being opening your eyes) and the rest of the time you're playing catch up and trying to make things slightly normal for the rest of your family a LOT falls through the cracks and you don't want it to be that way.  The other reason is that just like you don't know what to say and it all seems like not enough, there are no words this side of heaven that can adequately express this level of gratitude.  If I could lay prostrate on the ground kissing the feet of every person who has extended their love, generosity, and support to me and my family during this time and I could do it without it being The Most Awkward Thank You Of All Time I would do it and it would not come close to showing my most humble, passionate gratitude.  I want to do big things for every person who has loved us through this in ways big and small and yet there is nothing big enough.  It is paralyzing.  So, if you say something or do something and the recipient doesn't respond how you expected, have mercy.

Also, you may say something that is totally kind, right, loving, and perfectly suited to the persons needs and they might be having a tough day or just be overcome in that moment by what they are facing and they might cry, or be mad, or ignore you, and it will have nothing to do with you.  They are going through a difficult time and sometimes when faced with adversity we are very very strong, and sometimes we just lose our damn minds.  So please, have mercy.    

I hope this list is a bit helpful.  As I wrote this I realized that those of us who have faced a health crisis or other significant hardship and those of you who haven't are all in the same boat.  We each want to express feelings and intentions to the other that words cannot adequately communicate.  When someone faces an illness or other crisis we want to help so badly, we want it to go away, we can't stand the thought of someone facing it and it is scary to think it whatever it is could really happen so close to us.  I get it.  I remember.  In fact, even now, having walked through my own outlandish difficulty, I feel powerless to do what I really want to do, which is take it from them--to make it disappear in an instant.  We all want to know what the perfect thing is to say or do and I started this list with the intention of tying it all up with a bow for you, but I'm reminded now of why we all short circuit when we hear of another's suffering--it is because we are powerless to stop it and anything short of stopping it seems puny and insignificant.  Well, if you get nothing else from this list, please take away this:  you can't take it away, but your efforts no matter how imperfect, are not insignificant.  

Love is never insignificant.

These takes were not quick.  Back to you readers...what would you like to add?


  1. Thank you so much for writing this. I was feeling like a complete jerk after reading your other post because I know I said those two things to you probably five million times but always always with the intention Sarah mentioned. I've always read and learned that those are the things that are good to say. And I meant them as a way to let you know that I wasn't going to pretend like I got it as well as to recognize the hugeness of this ugly thing you were going through. Darn you, college classes and random magazine articles!

    Also, I think it would have been awesome had the housecleaner been Olivia Newton John and rocked her moves while she cleaned. Or at least donned her rockin' headband. Instant pick-me-up.

    1. Mary my dear dear friend you are not a jerk. Writing these two posts has helped me think this through more thoroughly, and will probably spawn a third post. I started out thinking I'd write something like a neat and tidy magazine article and now I realize what to do in these situations is so very individual. You have been so generous to us, the thought that you would feel like a jerk for one second because of my poor writing is unacceptable to me. And yes, it would be awesome if the housecleaner had been Olivia Newton John although I would want it to be Sandra D ONJ. Our sweet Miss Mary the cleaning girl is awesome though. Thank you for commenting and I'm so sorry if you were hurt.

    2. Oh no, I really appreciate this. I'm no stranger to tasting my foot, that's for sure, and I apologize for even unknowingly saying something that wasn't helpful. It's a good reminder that everyone is so different and yet another reminder to me to learn to think and pray before speaking. God seems to be telling me that a lot lately :)

  2. i love these. and nice persons. i am working on being a nicer person! thanks.

  3. Thank you for this post Nella- I, too, was embarrassed and so sorry I had said those things to you. Like Sarah's explanation I only had the best intentions. Love u

  4. Great post! Found you on MoxieWife's Fab5...
    I, too, am a cancer survivor.. The "don't expect anything in return" is a big one. I still carry guilt for not writing thank you cards to certain people who expected them when then sent me small tokens. I was barely hanging on... yet people still have expectations that you do certain things... like thank you notes.

    1. Thank you for stopping by Bunny, I'm sorry I didn't respond sooner! I hope you're doing well now!


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