On April 25th, we had my son Sam’s one year post-treatment check-up and everything was great! The one-year mark is a big hurdle to clear with Sam’s type of lymphoma, and while the fear of a recurrence will always be with us, we are finally starting to feel like we can breathe a little easier. We are so, so happy.
As I was reflecting on how fortunate we are, I came across an interview with Sheryl Sanders about her book “Option B.” She was speaking about how when a family is grieving, dealing with an illness, or otherwise going through a difficult time, people want to help, but they don’t know what to do. It sounds like an interesting and important book, but I couldn’t help thinking about how different our experience was. Somehow, amazingly, everyone around us seemed to know just what to do.
…Very few people said, “Let me know if I can do anything.” Instead, people just did things! Family, friends and even acquaintances seemed to know and do what we needed, even when we didn’t realize what we needed. I would find myself thinking, “I had no idea how much I needed that” after one of many countless acts of kindness.
In the interest of paying it forward, I want to share some of the things people did for me and my family that were really special. If you know an individual or family going through a hard time, and you want to help but don’t know what to do, try one of these!
- Dinners – Bring food. And if there is a reason that the meal you are bringing is important to you or your family, include a note that explains why. “We always serve this meal at family gatherings.” “We have a tradition of making cinnamon rolls on Saturday mornings, so we made a double batch to share with you.”
- Healthy snacks – Cut up a ton of different fruits and veggies, and drop them off. Leave a note that says, “When you’ve worked your way through these, drop off the empty containers on my door step, and I’ll refill them.”
- Take them out – Offer to take the family, or the mom, or just the kids, out for dinner. Make the offer specific. “We’re going out for Mexican food tonight. Can you join us, and can we pick you up on the way?” And if they can’t make it or don’t feel like it that night, ask again often. When you’re going through a rough time, you don’t always get out of the house enough, but it feels really good when you do.
- Magazines – Send a magazine subscription. UsWeekly, Real Simple, anything that can be somewhat mindlessly flipped through.
- Pictures – Find an old picture, and text it with a funny note. The more outrageous, the better. If you can make it a group text with high school or college friends, even better. It will start a chain of responses that will keep everyone laughing.
- Visit at the hospital – If you are going to be near the hospital, ask if you can come up and say hi, bring coffee, etc. Days in the hospital are long and monotonous; visits help break them up.
- Surprises at the front door – Leave a surprise at the front door. Cookies, gifts, a balloon, cards – it really doesn’t matter. Send a text that says, “I have something to leave at your front door; I’ll be there in 10 min. Not sure if you are home or feel like having a visitor, so I’ll ring the doorbell and wait for 2 min. Feel free to ignore if you are home but don’t feel like talking.”
- Invite them to things – You might think “I’m sure they wouldn’t want to come to this party with all they have going on” and maybe they won’t. But invite them anyway. And if there isn’t something to invite them to, make something up. A Sunday Sundae party with a big group of friends (thrown for absolutely no reason) was something Sam looked forward to for days, and something we all enjoyed at a time when we weren’t enjoying much.
- Gift cards – You can’t go wrong with gift cards. If there is a Dunkin’ Donuts in the hospital, get a Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards. If they have a favorite restaurant, get one there. But everyone can always use Amazon, too.
- Books – If you think there is a book they might like, send it. Or drop it off in their mailbox. Recommending it probably won’t work; put it in their hands.
- Prayers – We aren’t particularly religious, but we appreciated all the prayers for Sam and for our family. The best were the particular prayers “I was in Jerusalem, and said a prayer for Sam at the Western Wall.” “We added Sam to our prayer circle at church.” “I say a prayer for Sam each morning.” I was grateful for the general prayers, but when I could visualize the prayer that was being said for Sam, it was even more powerful. But if you aren’t religious, that’s ok too. “To the limited extent that I pray, I’m praying for you.” (That one made me laugh!) It’s the same with thoughts. “Our thoughts are with you” is nice and always welcome. But specifics thoughts are even better. “I know your family loves Mackinac Island, and I’m picturing you all there this summer.”
- Donations – If the family is supporting a particular charity, you can make a donation. If not, donate in their honor to a charity that is important to you. The size of the donation doesn’t matter.
- Comfort gifts – Send slippers because hospital floors are cold. Send a warm and cozy sweatshirt with a note that says, “Consider this the hug I wish I could give you.” Send a blanket because it’s comforting, even if the last thing they need is a blanket.
- Check in with texts and messages often – “I know there must be times when you don’t feel like you can do this, but you are doing it everyday!” “We love you” “Wish I had something insightful to say but I don’t. Just wanted you to know I’m thinking of you.” A scared, tired, overwhelmed moment can be instantly made better by a text that tells you you’re not alone.
- Share anything that means anything to you – If there is a quote that helped you through a rough time, share it. If journaling helped you get through something, send a journal. One friend’s dad had given everyone yellow “livestrong” bracelets when he was dying of cancer, and she sent me the last one she had. I wore it for months
The specifics don’t really matter. It was more often the note than the package that made the greatest impact. You are sending love, and as long as you are sending love, that’s what they will receive. It won’t be a mistake; they won’t take anything they wrong way.
If they already have the magazine you send, they’ll bring it down to the nurses. If they already have enough food, they’ll freeze it. That little thing you do might just be what gets them through a hard day, or makes them smile when nothing else does.
Once again to everyone who loved us, supported us, or reached out in any way – thank you! Your love carried us through. And for those of you who are still reading this very long post, one more laugh from my son, “Sam the Man.” He brought home a poem he wrote for school describing himself. It was all pretty funny, but our favorite was the line "Sam - who fears cancer, blood, and brackali!"