A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity. (Proverbs 17:17 NRS)
Parents of children with frequent health crises and hospitalizations can easily become socially isolated. Family, friends and congregations often would like to help, but may not know what parents need. Parents may not even know themselves what would be helpful. Here are a few basic suggestions for offering support:
- Parents often enjoy company. Compassion fatigue can be a real challenge for families. Even though hospitalizations may be a frequent reality, each one is due to a critical medical need placing parents under tremendous stress. Parents spend countless hours on edge and in need of distraction. A friendly face at the door can be a real blessing. Contact them first to let them know you would like to stop by if they want some company and ask what time is best for them.
- Offer to help, and be specific. I catch myself at times saying, “Let me know if you need anything.” I mean what I say, but the offer is so vague that it almost never accepted. It is better to be specific and ask if there is something in particular they need, or make an offer that is clear. “I’d like to bring a meal on Monday or Wednesday,” or “I can pick up your youngest child from school and bring her to my house for a play day,” or “I will be running errands all day Friday and would be happy to pick up your groceries or other things you need while I’m out.” Also, offer your prayers and be specific. Ask parents how you can pray for them that day. The medical situation may be constantly changing with new concerns each day.
- Check in regularly. A phone call or text message letting parents know you are thinking of them is helpful. Or if a parent is inundated with too many contacts (far too often this is NOT the case), offer to be a liaison sharing information with others, coordinating meals, transportation and other needs.
- Hospital stays are expensive. Apart from medical costs and deductibles, paying for parking and meals adds up quickly. A gift basket with snacks, gift cards to local restaurants, or even a Visa gift card help defray some of those expenses. Many congregations have a hospital parking fund to which members can donate and then pastors pass the funds on to families as needed. If your church does have one of these, look into what you can do to help start one.
- Families under stress need respite. A parent may be unwilling to leave a bedside unless another adult is constantly with their child. Once the child is home again, the effects of the stressful situation often remain. Parents need an opportunity for a break. Offering to stay with a child gives couples and single parents a chance to get away. If parents prefer to tag-team, with one staying home, moms and dads appreciate an invitation for a girls or guys night out. Even a few hours away with a good friend is a real blessing.
These are just a few ways in which families need support. The best way to know what is most helpful is to ask. Please feel free to share other suggestions in the comments.
Loving God, thank you for those who walk along side us when we need help the most. Guide us to return the favor in a way that is pleasing to you. Amen
“Counting Hand Sign” by Teerapun courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Rev Doc Lorna