Monday, August 20, 2012

How Can I Help You Through This?

“Tell me again,” she asked, “how do I ask someone to let me help them when they are in crisis mode?”  This was a message from my sister asking to me relay to her my observations about giving and accepting assistance for those in need.  Hers is a friend battling a quickly growing cancer, and she wants to help.  It occurs to me that others might find this helpful.

I am a Pink Warrior who has done the chemo, the surgeries, the radiation and now a series of reconstructions.  As a person in crisis, I can assure you we quickly discern who really wants to help and who really does not, but just wants to feel good about offering.

We hear the generic “Let me know if there’s something I can do” as someone quickly hustles away before we can stop them.  They didn't stick around for an answer.  We learn this really means, “Oh sweet Lord, please don’t let her ask me do anything!”  In truth, your mind is numbed and confused.  We do not know what we need, or how to ask for help.   
At the beginning of my cancer battles, I returned home from a chemo class with my mind reeling from all the facts.  I was emotionally spent.  I looked at my yard and realized it needed mowing.  It was not going to happen anytime soon.   So I wandered across the street to my landlady’s home and knocked.  I managed to share with her that I had breast cancer, would be having surgery in 2 days to put in a port, and I would be starting chemo in 10 days.  She took my hands, looked me in the eyes and said, “Tell me what I can do to make this easier for you.”  

Immediately my eyes filled with tears at the beauty of her words, and I blubbered my way into her kitchen.  I only asked for a little grace in keeping the yard mowed.  Between my chemo, my husband’s disabilities and no family in the immediate area, I knew mowing weekly as was my habit was not likely to happen.  She shook her head, and told me, “My boys will keep your yard mowed and trimmed.  You concentrate on getting through this.”  And then she listed several other things she was willing to do.  

Later that day, I reflected over that experience, I realized how my neighbor/landlady’s offer was easy to accept.  She made specific offers and I was able to consider them.    It taught me there was a right way and a wrong way to offer to help.  It helped me identify those who were willing and able to help.   Then also to identify those who meant well, but weren't really available.  It led me to these suggestions on how to offer assistance to friends in need.  Some of these things I had offered to me, and some I wish I had.  :)

    *Before you ever mention anything to your friend, consider what you have the time to do, the energy, the ability, and the willingness to do.  Draw your own boundaries.  If you can’t deal with body fluids, you won’t be able to help her change dressings for her.

    *Make your offer personally, whether by visit, phone call or note card.  When in person, try to arrange to speak somewhere quiet.  The the church foyer, or the school carpool lane may be convenient for you, but it hard for that person in need to concentrate amid the chaos. Their brain is already overrun with chaos.

    *Share with them that you want to help in specific ways. 

You can volunteer to drive them to appointments with 48 hour notice.

 If you are available on shorter notice let them know that.  I quickly learned when you have multiple appointments, arrangements can fall through and you need a backup plan.

You want to bring a meal in once a week

Even when people don't share an immediate need for mealtime assistance.  Trust me, it's appreciated to get the random  call in the morning that tells you, "Don't think about dinner tonight, I'm bringing it."  I call it Respite Care, which is the unexpected relief of daily responsibilities.  Hint*  Always mark the containers or dishes with your name.   I thought I would remember every kind soul who provided us with meals.  But I can't tell you how many times I held a casserole dish and had no clue which of those 7 people brought it.  If you want disposable containers back, mark them as well so we know to return them.
You can watch little ones during appointments.  
SUCH a challenge for people with "littles".

You can run errands for them.  

You are willing to vacuum (clean the kitchen or bathroom) once a week.  

Offer to assist THEM in doing these things.  My husband did not find changing the sheets regularly as important as I did.  But I had to have help doing so.

You will do their laundry.

Suggest they do their own underthings, trust me it makes a big difference in accepting laundry help when you know they won't be washing your personal items.

Send a child over to drag their trash can to the street and return it after it’s been emptied.  

This is nice for elderly neighbors, or those with permanent handicap. 

Drop off unexpected treats to them.  

Whether it's a tray of cookies or a movie DVD, it's a break in the sameness of each day of illness or recovery. It's encouraging to know that someone randomly thought of you and wanted to bless you.  *With movies please advice them if there's a return date and time.  Better yet, tell them when you will be back to get the movie to return it.  If it's a personal dvd then let them know there's no rush to view it, and when they can return it.  A movie and a box of microwave popcorn is a joy for a household of "littles."

Recruit other friends, classmates, Bible study companions to sign up for various chores so everything needed is covered.  

Together decide how to divide the responsibilities, and then appoint one person to serve as the "communication link" between the team of helpers and the person in need.  My pastor’s wife organized meals for my “chemo week”.  She gave me a list of volunteers who were bringing meals or giving gift cards so I knew who to expect and when.  I was able to tell her what foods was not working with my chemo and what food I was desperately craving (anything banana).    

Consider other members of the family affected.  
Including something meaningful to them is always appreciated and it brings joy to the person in need.

Don't assume that someone going through extended illness, treatments,  recovery, hospitalization wants to get out of the house with you.  I felt so bad turning down an offer from someone who wanted to take me out for an ice cream treat.  I was too exhausted to chew, much less make an effort to dress for public, then make a trip out and back.  I would have rather she just brought me the ice cream.  Please don't be offended if someone is just too tired to go out to dinner with you.  But it's fine to ask.  Particularly adults who are camping in hospital waiting rooms, often need time away to eat, shower and just decompress a bit.

If you aren't able to offer physical assistance, know that cards, music, novels and magazines are appreciated.  One of my sisters  flooded me with cards that touched and others that made me laugh.  Laughter in recovery and illness is important as well.  Not everything has to be "spiritually oriented."  A good ole belly laugh cleansed the soul as well.

Yes, those were my nails, 
responding to the nail hardeners.

Because I was concerned about losing my fingernails, long distance friends mailed bottles of nail hardening nail polishes in various colors of rose and pink.  It delighted me every. single. time.  

Another friend sent me a tea cup tucked among soft knit chemo hats.  She wrote that she had a matching cup and we could imagine sharing a cuppa tea with each other when we used our tea cups.  It made me happy but I also bawled for 30 minutes from the sweetness of her gesture. (sniff)     
     It is okay to make the occasional visit when you call first to find out if they are feeling well enough.  But keep visits under 20 minutes.  Getting overtired from lingering visitors brings a special kind of fatigue that does not sit well on the stomach.  Been there, don't want to do that again.

And hugs are good.  Hugs are always good.  Just be cautious of healing incisions or body trauma.

Even if we say no to your first offer, ask again later on.  When we are weary from the struggle of trying to juggle all the things we thought we could do, the enormity of our situation now faces us down; we are more likely run up the white flag of surrender and accept your loving assistance.


  1. Thank you so much for these suggestions. Now I know how to offer my help in such a way that the receiver will be more likely to accept. God bless you!

  2. Thanks, Rosey!! I've always wondered "what on earth do I do now???"


  3. I love this post. I actually think because it's very needed information, that anyone could benefit from when trying to decide how and what to offer to someone who's in need. One of your best!

  4. Thank you for the great post & suggestions on how to specifically help others going through difficult times. There are times when we don't know what to do, we want to help others but don't want to offend them or really know how.

  5. Tina, this is so helpful! I am so glad you wrote this because I often feel at a loss about how to help. So, thank you!

  6. oh tina, this is GOOD. this is REALLY good. and it leave me overwhelmed with thanksgiving that our family had help with pretty much every area you mentioned. people sacrificed so much for us -- time, & time again.

    i've had in mind for a while to write a post along these same lines. so if i ever get around to it, i'll be linking up to this one here.

    thx so much for sharing, my new friend,