A couple of months ago we discussed what to say and do for our friends who are hurting, and I’ve thought a lot about the helpful and insightful comments you left. There was a general agreement that we’ll never be too far off base if we reach out in love, and it sparked an idea to share ideas about how we can help in specific situations.
My sister Lisa’s two-year-old son, the youngest of six, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in January, and Lisa and her family have had first hand experience receiving kindness and comfort from many friends. Little Noah has responded well to treatments over the past six months and his prognosis is very hopeful, for which we’re so thankful. But it certainly hasn’t been easy, and Lisa and Dave recently shared with me some of the most thoughtful things friends have done for their family.
With Noah’s compromised immune system, extra clean hands for the whole family became a top priority, and knowing this Lisa’s sister-in-law sent a case of pleasant smelling hand sanitizer and soaps, with a note that she’d heard they’d be needing to wash their hands a lot. They’ve also received gas cards to help with travel costs to the children’s hospital four hours away, gift cards to the hospital café (a great idea when the hospital has good food), and a sweet note with money just for a date night. One of Noah’s favorite gifts was from a neighbor, who thoughtfully ordered a DVD just for him from the American Childhood Cancer Organization about a heroic boy with cancer. For any sick child, a stuffed animal is a sweet and cuddly gift, but for a child with cancer stuffed animals must be washable. If a child throws up or has an accident on a non-washable stuffed animal, it simply has to be thrown away. Just think of the heartache that can be avoided!
My friend Dianne’s teenage son was seriously ill for years, and she spent many, many days at a children’s hospital with him. She also shared a few of the kindnesses her friends and neighbors offered to her, and was quick to say there were thousands of others. One sweet gift was a hospital care pack, with non-perishable snacks and a roll of quarters for the vending machines, as well as a paperback book for her, 3-D puzzles for her son and, again, nice smelling lotion. Although she and her husband were both employed with good insurance, incidental expenses still added up, and the anonymous $100 bill they received was a blessing. Her son loved the gift certificates he received for Blockbuster (back in the day) and a nearby pizza delivery place, plus visits from his friends where they could just act like friends — play games, watch movies and talk like teenage boys.
Dianne also mentioned how valuable regular friendship was to her. “Sometimes,” she wrote, “it was wearing to answer too many questions, day after day, and it was a relief to simply do regular things with people. For example, my running buddy still ran with me whenever I was home and not at the hospital. We went on our regular route, and we would talk about ordinary things. She was great to listen to medical details if I wanted to talk about them, but honestly, it was a relief not to live in that theme all the time.”
Doesn’t it make sense that every so often, you’d just like to be part of the regular world? And also laugh. Although Dianne couldn’t offer a formula for humor, she said that was one of the most helpful gifts they received.
If you’ve had a child who’s been seriously ill, I hope you’ll give the rest of us some good advice about the help that meant the most to you. And if you’ve shared a kindness with a friend in this situation, I hope you’ll tell us about that, too.
P.S. — More advice from parents who’ve been there about What To Do When Words Fail Us and more thoughts from Dianne about the great work at their local children’s hospital, including how they helped her son have prom in the hospital.