In Times of Need
One year ago today, Simon was admitted to the hospital for stomach pain. Within 24 hours, we would learn it was stage four, incurable cancer. Some days it seems like it was a lifetime ago because of the progress we’ve made. Some days it stings and aches because it is still so fresh and it all happened so fast.
I have been getting requests to share what was helpful, practically and emotionally, during those critical days of crisis and uncertainty. By the grace of God and with the support of our friends and family, every one of our needs was met. And our needs are still being met. I can hardly find the words to express my gratitude. These are my reflections on what was helpful for us. Every situation is different but perhaps even one of these suggestions may benefit someone else in their time of need. Receiving compassion and care during our greatest trial is what the human spirit is all about.
This is a blunt way to start off, but hey, I said this would be a practical post. If you have extra room in your budget and are fairly certain your friend in need isn’t a gazillionaire, money can be so helpful during a time of crisis. Just to give you an idea of the costs we incurred, we had about $12,000 in medical expenses in six weeks and that was with great insurance! In fact, I am still receiving bills. We had a deductible, copays, coinsurance, second opinion bills, home health nurse costs, and medical equipment expenses. There were the travel and meal expenses when we would go to various doctor’s appointments. Our utility bills were triple while caring for Simon at home due to extra guests and medical devices being used. Our grocery bills were higher due to dietary needs. His out-of-state funeral meant we needed multiple rental cars and hotel rooms for family. Since our crisis occurred in the summer, the children were out of school and attended camps and programs to stay busy during the day. The children and I still attend private therapy plus Jason and I are in couples counseling.
Those are all just examples of how a normal budget can suddenly balloon when a crisis occurs. There are so many factors that could suddenly cause financial strain. Think of your friends that are self employed, have one breadwinner for the whole family, are on a fixed income, etc. If the unexpected occurs, it could have devastating effects financially.If you don’t feel comfortable giving cash, gift cards are also super helpful. Practical is key. The people in crisis probably aren’t thinking about getting new clothes or video games. Gifts cards to grocery stores, restaurants that offer takeout/delivery, gas stations, and big box stores like Target are great choices. Friends would offer to run errands for us and handing them a gift card made it so easy for us to get what we needed without expecting our friend to foot the bill.
I so vividly remember a friend going through her own crisis shortly before Simon’s diagnosis. A family member of hers had been convicted of a horrible crime. She had to deal with legal fees and criminal proceedings yet she still gave us an envelope of cash with no strings attached. She said we would need it. She was totally right and I remember her thoughtfulness almost daily. We are in a healthy place financially now but that is only because friends, and even strangers, gave generously during our time of need so that we could focus on our final moments together. It inspires me to want to be generous and proactive, to pay it forward when I am in a position to do so.
Everybody needs it. If you are able to bring a meal, what a gift! The person in need may want your company when you bring a meal but understand that your delicious gift of service may need to be a silent one, too. A former roommate of Simon’s suffered a terrible tragedy in his family less than a year before us. It was horrific and happened suddenly. A friend set up hot and cold coolers outside the family home and a text service. When someone brought food, they dropped it in the appropriate cooler then notified the family via text that it had arrived. As much as you may want to see the family, sometimes they desire privacy. Yet their basic needs for food and shelter persist. Know that your generosity is deeply appreciated by them and more importantly, recognized by our Heavenly Father. In Simon’s last days, he requested that only family members be present. We received snacks and meals in the hospital room from our community. Even though we weren’t able to see the thoughtful givers at the time, it meant so much to us.
- Events and Attractions
Because we had three young kids at the time of Simon’s illness, we were given fun items like movie tickets, theme park admissions, and activity books. Even if we weren’t able to take the children ourselves, it was fairly easy to find someone that would take them for the day if the cost was covered. One friend gave theme park tickets, plus a parking voucher, plus the cost of food for the day. It was so thoughtful and allowed for a carefree day of fun and smiles.
- Services and Non-Monetary Offerings
If you are able and willing to offer a service, offer it! The person in need may decline, but it’s worth offering. And offer boldly. It’s already hard to accept help when you are usually the one wanting to help others. It’s hard to say yes when someone states, ” Let me know if you need anything.” But when someone says, “I am a manicurist. I would love to treat you to a manicure. Which day is good for you?”, it is easy to say yes! Think about clear phrasing like, “I would like to mow your lawn next Thursday or Friday. I can bring my lawnmower unless you prefer I use yours. What time works best?” A dear friend that lives oversees hired housekeepers to deep clean our home once the kids returned to school. She contacted me, expressed her desire to provide that service, and asked when it would be convenient for me. The thoughtfulness coupled with practicality was invaluable.There are so many creative ways to bless someone in need using your time or skill set. A friend and coworker at my hospital set up a blood drive. People were able to donate blood (which saves lives!) and it also allowed me to have extra vacation time for every donor. One friend took our middle daughter horseback riding almost every week while another did crafts with her once a week. Our son’s teacher came over weekly to help him stay caught up on homework. Another friend did my yard work for six months. A few friends with pools gave standing offers for us to come by whenever we wanted to swim. I tear up even thinking about those sacrificial gifts of service.
- Going BIG
If you are close to the person in need and you are able, GO BIG. A few weeks after Simon died and all the commotion had settled, one of my best friends from college flew down for a week. She took charge which is what I needed. She said she was planning to come down (with my permission) and wanted to know which days worked best. She cleaned. She ran errands. She listened to me babble over cups of coffee. She roamed the aisles of TJ Maxx with me as I tried to feel like a normal person out in public. She helped the children as we settled into their first week of school routine. She found areas of my house that were a mess (helllllooo junk drawer) and tackled them. I couldn’t verbalize it at the time, but it was what I needed.Another friend came to visit Simon and enjoyed quiet conversation with him as he drifted in and out of sleep. As she left, she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I hope you know me well enough to know that if you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. I MEAN THAT.” She said it confidently and compassionately. Sure enough, a need arose. We called her. The need was met. In fact, SHE THANKED US for following through. Amazing. And yet another friend was able to help out with travel arrangements so we could all get to Texas for Simon’s service. In the midst of loss and heartbreak, we felt completely enveloped in love, hope, and compassion.
- Kind Words
If all you have to offer are your words, that can be worth more than anything mentioned above. Some people told me they said nothing to us because they didn’t know what to say or were afraid of saying the wrong thing. I totally get it. Before I went through this, that would have been me. Or I may have said something cliche that sounded good on the Hallmark channel. If you find yourself thinking of that person in crisis, let them know you’re thinking of them! A letter, a call, an email, or a text may be the best thing that happens to them all day. Keep it genuine and kind. Avoid unsolicited advice or phrases that don’t really make sense like “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” (That’s not actually in the Bible, by the way.) It’s perfectly fine to admit that you don’t know what to say but that you’ve been thinking about the person and that you love or care about them. I received a few cards last month. Simple, kind words from friends who had been thinking about us. It meant so much, especially as time passes. Because even though life does go on, we still miss Simon and feel the loss every day.
- Be Inclusive
The first few months after losing Simon were so, so lonely. I accepted nearly every invitation for play dates, birthday parties, coffee chats, and church events. A dear friend even brought me along to a friend’s family party where I didn’t know anyone. But it meant everything to be included. I had my limitations, though. Weddings and baby showers were rough. Celebrating love and new life made my heart ache like it had never ached before. So while I encourage you to reach out and include your friends in need, empathize and don’t take it personal if they decline offers. Reaching out and showing you care can turn their whole day, week, or month around.
Please don’t ever think it’s too late. That person you know in need? You know, the one you haven’t said or done anything for because you don’t know what to do? Chance are it’s not too late to say you care. It’s not too late to mail a card. It’s not too late to send a token of your love. We received many cards in those first weeks and months. We read them all. We saved them all. Thank you. But that card I received from a fellow widow thinking of me nearly a year after our loss? I will never forget it.
I am coming out of the fog from my time of need and am readying myself to serve others in need. What our family experienced was tragic but it was also a rich learning experience that has changed my life.
What helped you during your time of need? What are some other ways you’ve been able to help others in need?