We are truly blessed by an amazing family, a tight neighborhood, a sacrificial church body, and a large network of new and old friends. I reflect often on how anyone could possibly manage to survive without even ONE of these people groups; but the truth is, many must. Please take a moment to consider this and pray that your eyes are always open to those in need around you.
When disaster strikes (and it has, now multiple times for our family), people near and far spring into action. Some spring into prayer, some spring into contact: "We don't really know each other, but know that I'm praying for you and if there's anything I can do from Slicklizzard, Alabama, please let me know!"
And some yearn to help in tangible, practical ways:
- "Please let me know if there's anything you need."
- "I'm home on Mondays and Fridays - if you need to have someone watch the kids for you, I'm available."
- "We're on vacation until the 5th, but after that we're here for whatever you need."
- "I love to do handyman work. Call me if you need something fixed!"
- "Can I take you out for coffee?"
Being overwhelmed with available help is a good problem to have. Again, I am not decrying anyone's offers; I'm merely pointing out ways by which we can better help those in need.
- I don't know WHAT I need. I've been through our current situation (albeit under slightly different circumstances) before. So, I have a little bit of experience navigating how it looks taking care of two kids and a husband with balance, dexterity and cognitive issues. I know that I will go-go-go-GO and then CRASH. I know that I will need the house to myself every now and then. I know that I will forget, or be unable to eat, often.
The last time Ian had brain surgery (one should never have to write that sentence, btw), someone offered to do my laundry. This is not something I would have even considered as a need, nor would I have ever ASKED someone to do this routine, semi-personal task. "If I can't even do my laundry, I'm in big trouble!" I might have thought. Still, here was someone with a specific offer: "I am available, I enjoy doing laundry, and I would like to relieve you of that burden." And so, amazingly, I accepted the offer. And it was a blessing. It was one less thing on my plate, of course, but I can't fully explain the feeling of kindness that washes over you when someone has lovingly folded your gutchies. Truth.
My point here is this: I wouldn't have asked someone to do my laundry. If someone had been to my house and noticed that the dishes needed to be washed, he/she probably would have done them without asking. But to offer to meet this nearly invisible but nonetheless essential need -- I didn't know how blessed I would be by this simple thing.
- Offer to do something you are good at doing and enjoy doing. I like to write. I can come over and write notes or emails or Facebook posts or thank you notes. I can "interview" you to get a timeline of things in case you need that in writing somehow. I can fill out forms. I'm not a big cook, I don't dig on kids much (I'm available in a pinch, and I'm always willing to do it, it's just not my thing), but I actually find cleaning soothing (when it's not my own home) and I'm excellent at finding items in stores or online. I schedule just about everything, so if you have a routine appointment or need (take out the trash Thursday nights), I'm on it. These things may seem small, but they all add up, and PEOPLE WANT TO HELP. Let them.
- Be specific. If I've told you "I really like to deep clean a fridge," and you just spilled the orange juice in there, who ya gonna call? Sound ridiculous? It's not. It's really, really not.
- Put it IN WRITING. You say, "If you need anything, just ask!" and you probably mean it. The thing is, I'm not going to call you about "ANYTHING." An offer in passing is not something I'm going to remember nor hold someone to, even if they meant it earnestly. If you send a card and offer to do a thing, put that offer and your contact info RIGHT ON THE CARD. Or a little note you put in with the food. Even if you make the offer in person, put it in writing. Yes, I probably have your info in my phone or in the church directory. Yes, this might seem awkward (we should SO return to using calling cards!). But what's a few extra pen strokes to you? I stash that note in my bag and now I don't have to remember who offered to take the kids to the park. Note: please include your last name as well - depending on the amount of help offered, there can be several "Bill's."
- Be (a little) pushy. For many cultural reasons, we're conditioned to both shy away from asking for, as well as actually accepting, help (see an upcoming post entitled Accepting Help for Dummies). When someone responds, "That's okay," he or she may actually mean, "I wouldn't want to trouble you," or "that would be great but I feel like an idiot for accepting that offer," or "Oh, no, I would never ask anyone to do that." My response: "You're NOT asking, I'm offering, and I wouldn't do so if I weren't 100% willing." So maybe reassure the person that you, in fact, really DESIRE to help and it would make you feel great to do so. ("No thank you," however, actually means, "No, but thank you.")
2. I cannot keep track of all of the people who have expressed desire and willingness to help. (see above: put it in writing) If I don't call you, it's not because I prefer to receive help from the same five people. It's because I didn't think of you because I can't remember who told me last Wednesday he liked to plant shrubbery and recycle cardboard. Also, see Facebook note below.
3. "I'm allergic to dogs, I can't cook, and I work 50 hours a week. I can pray, but what else can I do?" This may require some detective work. I'm going to give you a list of randomness, just to get you started. THIS IS NOT A MAIZE FAMILY WISH LIST. Seriously, this is not about us. This is for YOUR information. (Note: some of these things are "just do it" items, and some would require coordination and permission, naturally).
- Laundry! (and other household chores)
- Child care (Go get froyo. Movies. The park. Shopping for something - especially if you have kiddos yourself; this way it's not staring at one another in your child-free home, it's joining some friends for some fun. Kids know when they're being shuffled about.)
- Yard work
- Patient care (can I sit with him for a few hours while he naps?)
- Caregiver care ("Can I take you to the movies and arrange for someone else to take care of the homefront?" / "Can I sit with him while he naps and YOU go out and do something?")
- Pet care
- Errands - recycling, dropping things off, picking things up
- Cleaning/organizing (home? office? car)
- Transportation (kids, patient, caregiver)
- Send a card. Send a package. Mail is awesome!
- Send emails or texts or posts or letters of inspiration
- Offer to take them to get groceries (and perhaps surprise them by paying for them?)
- Lend/give a novel you love
- Give a random, silly toy
- Give a random, silly magazine
- Find out somewhere they're headed or a prior commitment and cover the bill (someone did that for me in 20011 at the hair salon, and it was a crying moment for me. It happened again this year, at the orthodontist. Tears.) *see below, regarding giving money
- Take the "patient" out to eat or get them otherwise out of the house (this is good for both patient AND caregiver)
- Post ridiculous cat videos to her Facebook page
- Post just about anything with a turtle in it to her Facebook page (ok, so those last two are kinda about me, lol)
- Pool your efforts and resources to serve in some way (form a cleaning crew or a massage/hair cut/nails kind of thing, or tackle a home repair project)
- Gift the kids (but don't go overboard).
- What hobbies do they have? What foods do they love? Troll around for preferences (Facebook is another good avenue for sleuthing in this area) by asking around.
- Send them: "I'm at 'X', can I bring you a 'Z?'" text messages. (Reason: I'm not going to ask you to GO for Target for me, even if I need something. But if you're already there ...).
There are just a few ideas, and obviously you'll want to consider the situation. A new baby is different emotionally than a broken leg. A constant stream of folks visiting to squeeze the baby may mean "please bring us food so I don't have to cook for my cousins who are only here to see the baby but clearly not wash dishes" and a person experiencing depression may need space, or a listening ear, or a night out, or all three.
Regarding gift cards, cash and checks:
People are weird about money. Talking about it, giving it, accepting it, using it, not using it, etc. So let me just put this out there: You are not "throwing money" at a situation by offering it. You are not taking the "easy way out" of helping, nor are you insinuating something about the person/family's financial situation. Everything that relieves a burden relieves a burden. Cash may go toward gas for making hospital trips, paying the newspaper subscription, a new blouse for a woman feeling very blah, or perhaps toward something that's already in process, like, say, paying for a basement floor to be poured, the beginning of which was started before any thought of an impending bad situation existed. In my case, a kind friend (who knows that I buy most things, including toilet paper and cat litter from amazon.com) gifted me $25 amazon credit. I used it toward a wheeled laptop table because with all of the coordinating and communicating and writing I'm doing, I needed something portable but stable to serve as home base. Is a laptop table 1. something I'd ask for? 2. something essential to the home? 3. something I'd consider important in light of a potentially life-threatening disease? Nope. I probably would not have ordered it were it not for the "permission" by way of a few dollars from my friend.
A note about Facbeook:
I have a separate post coming about Facebook ... and really I've had the post percolating for many years. The website is one of my closest, dearest friends -- because most of my actual friends "live" there. I'll save the Facebook love for another day, but I'll say this: social media allows for a cadre of support like none other. It allows people overwhelmed with life and circumstance to get the word out to everyone quickly and accurately, preventing rumors, allowing targeted prayer and help, and just keeping connected to a world outside one's own difficulties. It also makes it easy to make a need known, if you can bring yourself to post it. It lets people show their care and support within seconds of receiving an update.