There are several people I care deeply about who are facing some really difficult times personally or with loved ones right now. It can be really hard to know how to help without feeling like you are getting in the way, bothering the person, or maybe you are simply unaware of what is needed. So what do we often do? Walk away without doing anything at all because that is the easy choice. Oh the guilt comes for a short time with thoughts of “I really should help; I really want to help; I just don’t know what to do”. But let’s be real, sometimes it really is easiest to turn and walk away without doing anything at all. So let’s all do our best to take the high road, step in and turn our desire to help into action.
As a nurse I have spent hours at the bedside holding a hand, listening to fears and worry, wiping tears, and comforting family and friends. It can be uncomfortable, and sometimes – most of the time – it is a blessing to step into the place of allowing someone to be seen and heard. It comes down to one word – acknowledgement. When life gets hard, when difficult decisions must be made, when unexpected diagnoses cross your path, people simply need to be acknowledged. They need to be heard. They need empathy. They need you to just show up.
In my personal life, I have also faced some really hard days. Gosh, haven’t we all! Five years ago, Ryan had to be hospitalized for medication support while in status. His seizures were relentless, and after we had given two large doses of emergency medication in a matter of several hours, we had no choice but to pay a visit to the hospital for a couple days. It was one of the worst hospitalization we have ever experienced thanks to an apathetic nurse and incompetent doctor. Sometime after that stay, I wrote the following tips on how to lend a hand to someone who is trying to manage through a really difficult time.
People often do not know what to do when someone is hospitalized or going through an especially difficult time. I want to share just a few things to consider when you want to help but are unsure how to do so:
- Do not ask “What do you need? Can I do anything to help?” Just do it. If you ask if a meal would help, I will tell you no. I do not want to be a burden. I do not want to feel like a victim or that I cannot handle this on my own. Because I handle it on my own every day. Put your thoughts into action. If you feel led to take a meal to someone or drop off a gift card, just do it. I promise it will be very appreciated. I had one friend bring two meals over with a very sweet card that essentially said “we are so sorry and are thinking of you”. Simple and to the point. Those two meals will be eaten this week as we recover from the stress and fatigue that takes days to get over. Another friend simply said “I am bringing you a meal and can do either Sunday or Monday. Which do you prefer?” I answered her and did not have to have the ongoing conversation on what she could do to help. Just today while eating dinner, a third friend stopped over unexpectedly with a big bag of food from Trader Joe’s and a beautiful fall plant. I cried when I saw her because I was so stressed out and her thoughtfulness meant so much. When trying to maintain one child in the hospital and the rest at home, life is much easier when someone just says what they are doing for you instead asking what you need. And trust me, those gestures are so very appreciated!
- Do not get mad or take it personally when I do not respond to you. If you ask me how I am doing and do not hear back, please do not text me again and say “are you there?” Of course I am here, and I am busy trying to survive through the stress and changes. I am trying to take care of my child and not think the worst. I am trying to maintain my composure without falling apart at the seams. I am dealing with doctors and everyone else who keeps coming in the hospital room. And I still have to stay strong for my other kids. People who have children (or another loved one) in the hospital may have the time to respond, but usually they do not have the energy. It is very difficult to say the same thing over and over and over again. It is exhausting. And lets face it, family comes first. I may call you one of my very best friends, but I may not stay in contact with you because it takes all my energy just to keep my siblings and parents in the loop – and they need to know what is going on before anyone else finds out. Just because you do not hear from me does not translate to “I do not care about you”.
- Do not tell me about every situation you have had with your grandma, dad, cousin and uncle. If the situation was different, and I was not sitting in the hospital with my child trying to just survive the moment, I would care and be interested. But right now, in the midst of the acute situation I find myself in, I really do not want to hear about what worked for your relative. I do not want you to comb through all the choices we have made for our child and dissect what else we can do or the latest and greatest new technique or medicine you found on the web. Please just listen and be present in my pain and concern for my child. Please just show support and understand we are doing the very best we know how to do. We have to make decisions, and we worry all the time that we are making the wrong one. Hearing about how your uncle saw a doctor in the next state over is not pertinent to what I am facing right now. I do not intend to sound self absorbed and self centered. And I definitely do not intend to come across as an insensitive friend when you chatter on and on, but honestly, I do not want to hear it right now. Please just respect the choices we have made for our family.
- Know that even when I do not say it, I really care about you. I appreciate the prayers. I need your support. Sometimes I feel like a complete burden and worry about what others think. I am weak and I am imperfect, but I am doing the best I know how to do. Sometimes the emotions and stress are just too much to bear. Your love and support is invaluable. I am just not always good at verbalizing it.
I hope these tips are received well, and I say them with good intentions. Whether a person or family is facing a difficult time with someone in the hospital or they have lost a dear family member or they are facing the loss of a job or whatever it may be, being present is the most important thing you can do. Your actions speak volumes. Your listening ear is appreciated. Your acknowledgement is a precious gift. It is easy to feel helpless, but when heartache and stress come, love can be expressed in many ways to show support. Again, do not ask. Just act.