In my last post I somehow totally forgot the entire point of my writing. What was written was not what should of been but, at that time, could not be anything else. This ever happen to you?
What I wanted to write about is what you can do to help families with children in the hospital. We all wish we could do more to support a child facing challenges and their caregivers, beyond the prayers and cold hard cash (less relevant for medical bills here in Canada, though it helps gets through a time of lost income and having to stay in another city). I know some people feel like they do not want to intrude on a busy and stressed family, especially if they do not know them particularly well, but being human is about getting all in each others' business. From our own experiences with Smootch's illness and subsequent heart surgery at three months old, it is better when too many people step up to help rather than too few. Embrace the busy body part of yourself and go beyond well wishes. Here are some things you can do:
* Make meals. Put the meals into individual serving paper or plastic containers that can be microwaved and you do not expect back. Take the meals to the hospital and ask reception to stow it in the patient fridge with the patient's name on it. Make sure the family knows the meals are their for them. A home cooked meal is so very welcome when subsisting on cafeteria food for days or weeks.
* Make hospital gowns or kimono style shirts for the child patient. This works best when the family lives in the same city as their child is staying and they have access to their own washer and dryer.
* Pass along DVDs, magazines, and books. If you were going to donate them anyway, give them to the family and tell them to donate them to the hospital (or their room mates) when they are done. So much of hospital life is tedious as well as anxiety producing. Distraction and laughter is a brilliant solution to this.
* Put together a small care package, no bigger than what can fit in a bedside table drawer. Try puzzle books, chocolate, pens and paper, exotic tea bags or powdered drinks in individual servings, extra toothbrushes and toothpaste, personal wipes (for quick sponge baths for the parents), eye masks for blocking out light (Smootch would only sleep with blanket folded over her eyes, hospitals often being so much brighter than we are comfortable sleeping with).
* A phone card, gift vouchers for the cafeteria, small, temporary credit cards like paypal and Visa issue, for paying for all the small little things that we often do not have change for.
* Call grandma. The grandparents of the child often have a good idea what can be helpful and are sometimes already in the process of organizing meals, accommodation and such. Grandma's are never shy of using your help for their babies and their babies' babies like the parents themselves can be.
* Babysit. Babysit the children that are not in the hospital or go sit with the child in the hospital while a parent takes a break. Often children need their parents to advocate for them 24 hours a day and are never left without the care of a family member. Go take over for an hour while mom or dad catches a quiet cup of coffee or nap.
* Donate or volunteer for a charitable organization that helps families of sick children. In my area, Calgary based Heartbeats was a wonder for us when Smootch was diagnosed with a VSD, providing information, support staff, shoulders, and financial aid. There is many such organizations, local and national. Call them up and see what you can do in this indirect, but still very helpful way.
* Don't forget that once a child is released from the hospital they still need extra support. Sometimes more than ever. Keep up the pizza coupons, gift baskets, babysitting. Other children in the family may want to come over for more frequent play dates with your children if the parents are very busy with the ill child. If you have an impulse or an idea that may help, call grandma. She'll know what you can do.
I want to discourage anybody who thinks that families today, because of the government and private services available, because of our relative influence, because of our standoffish, don't-ask-don't-tell kind of culture, that the best thing we can do for a family in crisis is to stay out of the way. We do need each other. A sick child is in the top three scariest things that can happen to a family. Personally, I'd rather face down a bear while tied to the last berry bush in the world. Okay, yes, sometimes a family actually does need you to just stay out of way, but how do you know if you don't ask (even grandma)?
I'd like to invite anybody who has had this experience to add to this list in the comments below or even share some what not to dos.