Hey there friends! Sorry for the short absence. I had to move my site to a different host and I stay off my site during that time so that I don’t screw up anything! Because when it comes to that sort of thing…I have no idea about any of it!
This post is something I’ve had brewing in my heart for almost a year now. I’ve been thinking about it more lately since we are coming up on the babies first birthday here soon. And of course with that comes all the memories…good and not so good. Please keep in mind I’m writing from my own little experience. I am not assuming that I respond the same as everyone would in a similar circumstance. I’m also aware that my experience is one of many that could be had. People are hospitalized all the time for many different reasons…and they all have differing personalities, life situations, complications, and on and on. But from my experience I realized something…until you are in the middle of something, or someone close to you is…you don’t know what you didn’t know until you are in it. So I’m writing this in hopes to help anyone see with different eyes so to speak.
Just a little background for those who don’t know: I was hospitalized practically all of June last year for pregnancy complications. After that, our sweet babies were in the NICU for multiple weeks. (You can read about those experiences here and here.) We lived one hour south of the hospital where the babies and I stayed. Not ideal, but we knew we would get excellent care where we were. Also, my mom was able to come from Washington and stay with the kids and Nathan while I was in the hospital and after the babies came…her presence was a huge blessing to us.
When someone you are close to is in the hospital, what is the first thought you have about how to be helpful to your friend? Most people would say, “go and visit them”. Of course. That’s what we do. We visit friends in the hospital. But, if I may…offer a few thoughts and alternatives to this way of thinking? Also, for the sake of trying to cover too many different situations, I’m just going to assume your friend is A) female and B) is married and has kids or is about to have one and C) will be or has been in the hospital for 3 days or more.
- Ask questions, out of love for your friend. Also, tell your friend you expect honest answers and the answers will not hurt your feelings. Everyone is different. Being cooped up in a hospital room for days on end will get to anyone…extroverts, introverts…it’s tough on anyone. But not everyone will express it the same ways nor find help or comfort in the same ways. Some friends might love a visit from you. Anytime, for any length of time. But for others, the thought of visitors might just be too much at times. They are lonely no doubt, but floods of visitors in their hospital room is not what puts them at ease. From my experience and perspective, here’s a few things to keep in mind: ask your friend if they honestly want visitors. If they don’t, do not take it personally. It might not be a good day. They might be having complications where their health/situation can change drastically rather quickly and having friends around just adds to the stress and awkwardness of it all. If your friend does want visitors plan to keep your visit fairly brief. (Unless your friend tells you otherwise of course.) But I’m going to tell you, it is very awkward as the patient to kick people out of your room. Because unless you have tests scheduled, or a doctor waltzes in to check on you, you have no excuse to kick people out. I mean, you’re not going anywhere. You have nothing to do. These people have made time out of their busy day to come to you and you feel obligated to let them stay as long as they please. I think what people don’t realize (and I didn’t until I’d been there!) that being in the hospital is super draining. At least that’s how I felt. I know you’re not doing anything for days on end, and it’s hard to explain, but it is draining. On your mind, on your emotions, and your energy. Anyways, that’s another topic…but just know that your friend might be tired, drained, and just not themselves. It might take a lot out of them to have a conversation. So let your friend know up front that they don’t need to “entertain” you. If you just sit and watch a movie with them, or read magazines, or paint your nails silently, but they just want your friendly face there, that’s ok with you. I think that would be very freeing to your friend. Also, text them when you park. That way if anything has changed, there’s no awkwardness for anyone. It also gives your friend 10 minutes or so to “tidy up” her little place if she’s able and wants to…or notify the nurse to kick you out after 30 minutes have gone by 😉 just kidding…you need to do that yourself!
- If you do go visit, take along some things your friend might need! When I was in the hospital, some things I thought that I would bring a friend in the hospital would be: chapstick, lotion, nail polish, good smelling hand soap for her bathroom (if she has her own!), a cute water bottle, hand sanitizer that doesn’t smell like alcohol, some of her favorite snacks (if she can have them!), flip flops, and maybe something fun to decorate her space. Ask her what she’s allowed to do and what she has room for. I had a good size room all to myself, and my nurse told me one lady before me had brought her sewing machine and craft supplies and kept busy sewing. So if your friend knits, or paints, or colors, or makes jewelry, see if you can bring her some supplies! So if you do go, make sure you take her something helpful and maybe a little fun! 🙂 Also ask your friend if she’s allowed to leave her room. I was as long as I stayed in a wheelchair. My kids thought wheeling me around was super fun…although riding in a wheelchair wasn’t “super fun” to me, it was great to get out of my room. Even if it’s just to go to the cafeteria for frozen yogurt or sit outside for 5 minutes, it was helpful to get some fresh air.
- If your friend doesn’t want a visit, send mail or ask if you can chat on the phone. I loved getting mail when I was in the hospital. It was so encouraging that these friends were thinking of me and took the time to gather some items they knew I liked/needed and sent them my way. I also loved setting up phone dates with friends. Typically I’m not a talk on the phone kind of person, but these dear friends were in Washington and couldn’t come to visit, and I obviously had the free time to catch up with them. It didn’t feel as awkward as having someone visit you. Just know that your friend might have a nurse/doctor pop in during the conversation and might need to end your conversation abruptly. But mail and offering to call are always great ideas. Also, I think most hospitals are this way, but a few times my mother-in-law called the gift shop at the hospital and bought me flowers, a balloon, and some magazines. They brought them to my room and that was fun to have those delivered.
- Don’t visit, offer other help instead. Like I said, most people think to go visit their friend…but might I offer the suggestion that you do not go? Instead, help the family at home. Dear friends, I can’t get through this part of the post without tears because my heart still aches for my family that was home while I was hospitalized. Now I know offering to help out someones family that is missing mom is asking a lot. It is way more time consuming than going to visit your friend. But in my opinion, it is so much more needed. These people are trying their best to get along without someone who’s always there doing so many things. (Not that I’m trying to toot my own horn or anything, but I saw the effect this had on our older two and my husband. Whether mom works out of the home or not, they do a lot to maintain the home/family and when they aren’t around, it is felt, big time.) Offer to bring dinner once a week, even if you have pizza delivered to their house, it’s a blessing. Offer to have them over to your home for dinner a few times while mom is in the hospital. Or, and this would be super generous of you, offer to watch the kiddos so that hubby can go visit his wife alone. Don’t get me wrong, having your kids come visit you in the hospital is a pick me up for sure…but it’s so hard too. I felt like I had to put on a brave face for them. I didn’t want them to be scared or think that I was in a lot of pain or anything. It’s also hard for younger kids to understand that you can’t leave with them or help them use the bathroom, or pick them up…or just be normal. And I knew that life at home was not normal and attitudes were difficult and there wasn’t much I could do about it. So I know offering to watch kids or have this family over would not be easy, in fact you might even see these kids at their worst…but your sacrifice would not go unnoticed by this family in need…I guarantee it. You can get creative and think of many other ways you can help…offer to vacuum once or twice a week, feed the pets, mow and weed their yard/rake leaves/shovel snow (depending on the time of year!), take kids to and from school/sports, take the kids to a movie or the park to give dad (or the grandparents…whoever is watching the kiddos) some much needed free time, clean bathrooms, offer to stop at the grocery store for them…I’m sure there’s a lot of ways we can be helpful to our friends in times of need. You can always ask, but I think most people are sort of overwhelmed during these times and can’t think super straight about what needs they have and how you can help. They also don’t want to impose. So be specific when you ask: “I really want to help you guys. So please tell me what would be best for you…dinner twice a week from us, or us taking over your lawn care duties while mom is away?” Also, people will never refuse gift cards. If schedules are crazy all around, I think sending a gift card or two for a restaurant will always be welcomed and helpful.
I guess my basic point is this: when we find ourselves wanting to help others who are hurting, having a rough patch, or going through a difficult time, let’s look beyond the “norm” of what we would typically do to be helpful to our friends. Really think about your friends personality and their current life situation and how you can step in and do the most good. Do they have a large home that will be hard for dad/grandparents to keep clean? Do they have nearby relatives that are stepping in to help out? Are the kids at home school-age and involved in various activities? Is dad taking unpaid time-off from work to be home/at the hospital? Is the hospital your friend is at providing good care? There are so many things to consider. Sure, visiting people in the hospital has it’s place and can be really helpful, but there’s so many more ways to show that friend, and their family, that you care. I think you can take any of my thoughts and apply them to anyone who’s in the hospital for any amount of time. (I think however, there might be some variation if children/babies are in the hospital. Eventually I plan on writing up a post about how to help NICU parents, because it can be challenging to step in during that time as well!) Also, I think this might be obvious, but please make sure you and your family members are well before offering help. If you all are passing around a stomach virus…this is not the time to physically help. They make e-gift cards for those kinds of situations 😉
There are so many ways we can show God’s love tangibly to those around us. I hadn’t thought much about any of this until I was in the middle of it. I hope what I learned and observed is helpful to you and I pray that I hold on to what the Lord showed me. I want to see my friends needs with His eyes and respond with His Hands and Heart…I know you want the same! 🙂 I also want to take this time to tell anyone who did help us out during this difficult time, thank you. Your texts, phone calls, gifts, prayers, words of encouragement, gift cards, and any way you offered to help and be available did not go unnoticed. We are grateful for you.
Any questions? Comments? Other ideas? I’d love to hear them!
Happy Wednesday friends!