The four most difficult words in the English language to respond to. I should know. People have been asking me for the better part of a year how they can help and it’s still impossibly hard for me to answer this, but I can offer some ideas for helping someone who is in a similar situation, for example, Anissa Mayhew (see the button to the right, click on it, and you can make a paypal donation).
There are a million and one things that we do to care for our families and our households that we don’t even consider until we’re unable to perform them. Immediate things that can be done while she’s in the hospital people seem to be on: gift cards for fast food restaurants, arranging for care for her kids so that her husband doesn’t have to worry about that and can focus on her, offering assistance in picking folks up from airports or other places and delivering them where they need to be.
But once the immediacy of the situation is over and she’s on the road to recovery, there are still tons of things that we can do to help and that, if we can, we should do to help. The things that cause the most stress are the day to day living activities that can drain a person of energy. So, research things like grocery delivery in her area, meal preparation services in her area, maid-type services in her area. There are online options like Alice.com that could be used to order and deliver basic supplies that we often forget but people always need (toilet paper, toothpaste, paper towels, etc., etc., etc).
Meal preparation services cannot be underestimated in their usefulness. Our friends at Baby Toolkit gave us a gift certificate to our local meal preparation place Dinner Done!. We’d never considered that the worst part of cooking is having to do the preparation, but once we were in over our heads, we found that having meals we could just pull from the freezer and cook was the most wonderful gift. A quick search of the Atlanta area and I found The Dinner A’Fare which appears to be similar to Dinner Done! The great thing about these is that they will do everything for you AND deliver the food to the recipient, so it can take a great deal of stress off of her family during this incredibly difficult time and during the even more difficult time of recovery.
All of the day-to-day management tasks, laundry, dishes, and so forth can also be a serious drain on the caregiver and should be considered as things that people can “do” to help. Whether you help fund someone to come in and assist or if you are in the area, go over and fold laundry and make tea (a phrase suggested by a friend of mine last year; the best thing you can do is not really visit, but visit to help out).
This situation requires long term planning and strategic vision when it comes to how can I help. Right now, everyone is in shock and wants to do something RIGHTNOW. But remember, she’s not looking at a recovery that is a matter of days or even weeks. This is a long road she’s starting on and it will be some time before all of the things that she usually does will be done by her.
There’s also the reality that there are going to be things that need to be done for her. In that respect taking cues from the family is the best bet. If they have a home church, trying to coordinate with the church might be an effective strategy.
The thing is it is very hard when you’re the family involved to say what you need. It feels petty to say, I need help with the laundry or I need help taking care of the kids’ after school schedules or I don’t have the energy by the end of the day to cook dinner or even, I can’t face cooking breakfast in the morning. But these are the real things that drain the strength away from someone who is working on recovering and these are the things that we can be thinking about as Anissa moves forward in her journey.
I’ve only had “incidental contact” with Anissa through other people. I know who she is. I know what she’s about, but I hadn’t gotten to know her yet because of my own energy limits and the time that I don’t have because I’m still trying to recover from my own near death experience.
Linda at Sundry Mourning inspired this post with a comment about trending on Twitter. People want to feel like they’re doing something, I think, and creating the trend, getting the star to tweet to Anissa feels like something is being accomplished. We’re helpless; we’re not family, and yet we are. The Internet creates unusual relationships, but when we get down to the nitty-gritty details of life, that’s where we can all roll up our sleeves and pitch in. I hope this helps not only figuring out how to help Anissa, but also how to help the next person whose life spins out of control, because it will happen again and again — it’s the nature of life. And, when you have an army at your disposal, as does Anissa, you want to try to harness that power and make something good come from something awful. I hope this helps.
When you wrote “….it feels petty to say, I need help…”, I reacted so strongly!
We, those asking, WANT to hear the words, “I need help…”. People asking never receive those words as petty or selfish.
As is so often the case, people don’t know what to say or to do.
By being clear with what you need is a gift. It’s a gift to the person asking because they know what they can do to help (something they desperately want) and a gift to the receiver as well, as they are getting what they actually need.
Maybe petty wasn’t quite the right word. And maybe it’s a control freak thing on my part (wouldn’t be the first time that happened). I guess what I was trying to get across is that it feels bad (in a frustrating and yucky sort of way) to say, hey, I can’t even do my family’s laundry. And it’s hard to say that you can do something that you either enjoy doing or feel responsible for. Shortly after my experience, our very dear friends and their daughter came over and decorated our Christmas tree “with” us. As in I sat on the couch and unwrapped ornaments, they did everything else. We all had a great time and it was a very good experience (I hope for them, too), but part of me was sad and frustrated that I couldn’t do the thing that I love to do.
And with laundry or cutting the grass or sorting the recycling or whatever, you’re asking someone else to take on a “grunt” task that is not particularly fun and it ends up feeling weird/uncomfortable to say I need help with my laundry.
Then again, it could be that I was raised not to ask for help and find it incredibly difficult to ask for help even when I’m in serious, serious trouble. So, maybe my ideas aren’t so good, or maybe they are. I hope they’re at least a little helpful.
I totally understand what you meant – insert any adjective, it’s HARD to admit when you need help. I totally get the sadness and frustration in not being able to do things yourself.
All that being said, we do need help sometimes. We know, because we have all helped others, that people WANT to help and it doesn’t matter if it’s a “grunt” task because we love that person.
We have to practice empathy in reverse!
When people help in response to our specific requests in times of distress, it’s often the only thing that they CAN do. They don’t know what to say, they don’t know what you need, they are “afraid” to engage you in conversation for fear of bringing something up that will cause more emotional pain. People sometimes disappear in times of stress precisely because they do not know what to do.
I think if we try to think of it as a two-way street (you are helping them because without you they wouldn’t know what to do and in return you are getting much needed help when you can barely put one foot in front of the other), it might help.