The new lady at work, a mom on your child sports team, a person you don’t know well but attend the same church with has been diagnosed with cancer/had a new baby/had a death in the family. I know you want to help; here are some practical ways you can help somebody you are not an intimate friend of.
When I was diagnosed, I had only been divorced four months. I had only moved to town a year before and as you can imagine spent the entire year focused on getting my kids and myself through this in one piece.
When I was diagnosed, I truly had zero close friends who lived near me. I had people I was getting to know at church. Nobody I was comfortable being as vulnerable as I was about to become.
Instead of retreating to isolation, I continued to build these relationships through my illness. Although I was never comfortable enough just to text somebody to come and check up on me to make sure I was not already dead…seriously, my sister or mom would text or call me (from over 600 miles away) to check on me if I hadn’t been on Facebook for a while.
So here you go, you are desperately wanting to help but get no response to the “Call me if you need anything” mantra (trust me…unless you are in the inner circle and have a deep standing relationship…they won’t call).
- Money: Lets just get that one out of the way. It’s a great help (especially in my case being off work and not having a significant other). It doesn’t have to be cash though…I know lots of people like to know that their dollars are being used wisely. Here are a few ideas (and many which we were recipients of).
- Cash – can be used for anything.
- Gift cards – Food (fast food, pizza, grocery store, coffee shop). Pampering (manicure, pedicure, coffee shop, favorite makeup brand). Gas (locally or – even better – regional so they can be used if/when traveling for medical appointments. Shopping, cell phone…the possibilities are nearly endless.
- Housing and Utilities – Rent/mortgage payment (often not a possibility as an individual or family but if you can get enough people together it is possible). Cable/Internet/electricity/water/heat/cellphone (you can usually just go in and request to put money on a person’s account. Each time I opened a bill with a credit (because it had been paid anonymously) brought me to tears.
- Extra curricular activities: Cancer does not take the baseball/hockey/bowling season into consideration. Helping to pay for these fees ensures their family can still have some normalcy.
- Non-perishables: This can run from super inexpensive to out of the park so anybody almost can do it. Make sure to ask if they have a brand preference and maybe if they have space to store (of you are thinking of getting a large quantity)
- Toilet paper
- Dish soap
- Laundry Soap (pods are very convenient when time/energy is at a premium)
- Body Wash
- Shampoo/Conditioner (for the rest of the family)
- Bubble bath/Bath salts/etc
- Paper plates/plastic utensils
- Garbage bags
- Hair products (if there are children in the house with hair needs)
- Pet products (food/litter/grooming) (we didn’t have a pet during cancer, but if we did this would have been a good one)
- School shopping list
- Experiences: This was a very difficult one for me. I could not afford to take my kids anywhere that was not free. Even then, if there were concessions or other costs with the event, we usually stayed home. For some people, even the $2.00/each is too much. For many of these, it is appropriate (and even welcome) for you to invite the family to join you as you do one of these activities.
- Movies: most theaters now have gift cards that can be used for admittance as well as concessions.
- Pampering: See gift cards above
- Sporting events: locally, regionally. Even high school events.
- Hotel stay: whether traveling for medical appointments or locally just to get out of the house for a night. For medical appointment stays, it is nice to stay at the same place when you are able to build a relationship with the staff…if they are staying at a roach motel, an upgrade for even one night might be nice as well.
- Water parks
- Laser tag
- Trampoline parks
- Shopping Mall gift card (excellent option for a group gift – for say a coworker)
- Food: Now this one is a little more tricky, especially as a single parent and with the custody arrangement I had. The boys are with me one week and then one week with dad. Take Them a Meal type arrangements are not necessarily appropriate during long term treatment.
- I always LOVED when a friend would call and tell me pizza would be delivered on a certain day at a certain time…or would call early enough in the day for that same day. SERIOUSLY…awesome.
- If you’d like to provide a meal, or sign up for a Take Them a Meal type thing here are a few guidelines:
- Be on time or at least call/text to change the time. Calling or texting when you were expected to be there 15 minutes ago is too late. A few hours notice is awesome. Of course…there are exceptions to everything…accidents and emergencies happen. Just try to give as much notice as possible.
- If you bring it in dishes that you want back, feel free to also return the next day (or so) to wash dishes and take what is yours back.
- Disposable dishes are an awesome option for this
- Instead of asking “what would you like” how about “is there anything you have been craving lately?” “what is something your kids would kill for?” They were the ones I really needed to feed…I was happy with Smuckers Uncrustables for the most part.
- Consider dessert as a meal…honestly…especially if the kids are gone. Cherry pie with ice cream for supper…SIGN ME UP.
- It is MORE THAN ACCEPTABLE to give gift certificates for places like McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, Pizza, Taco John’s. If you think about how you are able to just run through the drive through when you are at the end of your rope or energy…imagine NOT having that option PLUS having cancer (or a new baby or a funeral to plan).
We received almost all of these through out my two year battle. We could NOT have gotten through it without each of these. None of them is insignificant. Each one fills a different need that we prayed about on a regular basis.
It was a lesson in teaching my children how God answers prayers. We had a list of things we prayed for…being able to look back on the list and to be able to cross things off the list was the most tangible way to show God’s love through such a trying time.
Thank you to all of those who supported us through what could have been a devastating time!
As those who have become my friends recognize their contributions, help them understand the weight of their gifts. Help them to see that each time they reached out, whether it was $5.00 or $5000 it made an impact that touched our hearts and fed our spirits.
For those wondering if they can help…let them see it does not take much to make a difference. That it was the gifts from mere strangers/acquaintances that really showed us that we were loved beyond comprehension.
Thank you God for giving me the opportunity to learn these things so I can share them with others!