We were grieving the loss of our firstborn while spending all of our energy and time at the hospital with a preemie son. We were drained emotionally and physically. We needed help.
Although we received an abundance of support and assistance from family and a few close friends, we often failed to grab hold of additional help offered from those beyond our intimate circle. Over and over again we heard individuals say, “If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know!” but we struggled to take people up on that offer. Like most families who have recently had a new baby, we were already completely overwhelmed. Add grief and a sick infant on top of that and it was almost impossible to organize our own help.
I too am guilty of offering ambiguous help to new parents. I understand why we say it; we don’t want to overstep bounds but we want them to know we care. We don’t want to offend anyone by assuming that they need help (after all, in our society we can do everything on our own – right?) We’re eager to help but just don’t know how, so we offer the all encompassing, open ended “anything…” and tack on a “let me know!” so as not to add any pressure.
The problem is that it’s difficult to know precisely what an individual means when they offer to help with “anything.” You’ll do anything? Are you willing to clean my toilet? Take my hypothetical dog for a walk? Pay my rent for the month so my husband can take time off work? You offered to help but what if you were just being polite? What if it’s too much for me to ask you to make a meal or drive me to the hospital?
Unless the individual was a close family member or part of our wedding party, we felt uncomfortable taking them up on offers of assistance unless they clearly defined what they wanted to help with.
Our suggestion for helping out a family in need: clearly state the way you would like to help.
If you really don’t mind doing anything, then help us out by giving some suggestions to take you up on. “I would really love to help out by cooking you a meal or washing your floor! Is this something that you need?” It was easy for us to accept (or decline) offers that were worded this way because we knew exactly what and how much an individual was willing to give.
Being clear about your offer to help also opens up conversation. Even if a family doesn’t need what you’re offering, they may share other areas in which they would love support. Having a genuine discussion with them about their needs, rather than a quick one-lined offer, may make them more comfortable in asking for help when they need it.
So how do we help out new / grieving parents or those with a child in the hospital? Here are just a few ideas that we personally found beneficial.
HOW CAN I HELP?
1. Food: Food is probably one of the best ways to help out new or grieving families. Driving back and forth to the hospital multiple times per day made it difficult to schedule time to pick up groceries, let alone cook them. Often my husband and I forgot to eat. While this got me back to my pre-pregnancy weight in record time, I wouldn’t recommend using this weight loss plan.
- Freezer meals: Great option if the family has a large freezer or can store food with family. Make sure to check first to see how much storage they have.
- Fresh cooked meals: Although frozen food is great because it can be warmed up at any time, sometimes it’s also nice not to have to worry about heating it up. Arrange a date and time to drop off a freshly cooked meal.
- Create a meal plan calendar: I suck at cooking and you probably don’t want me to make you dinner. However, I can organize a calendar. Having an individual as the contact person between the family and those making meals is great. Keep track of who is giving what type of food to avoid ten lasagna’s in the freezer. The less the family has to organize, the better.
2. Giftcards: Dealing with the loss of a baby or an unexpectedly long hospital stay effects a family’s finances. Giftcards are always helpful as they can be used at any time and can be a huge blessing. A giftcard doesn’t have to be expensive, yet still lets the family know that you’re thinking of them.
- Restaurants: While our son was in the NICU, my husband and I spent a lot of money eating out. There were days when we just didn’t have the time or the energy to make dinner (probably because I forgot to take food out of the freezer to thaw). Some days we did Fast Food so we could get back to the NICU as quick as possible and other days we needed to get away from the hospital for a while and enjoy a quiet, sit down meal.
- Grocery Stores
- Hospital Cafeteria: Is there a Starbucks or Tim Hortons at the hospital? Chances are, the family is buying caffeinated drinks and quick snacks at the hospital on a regular basis.
- Gas Cards or Transit Tickets: Going back and forth from the hospital multiple times per day can get expensive. Gas cards or a bus pass are a quick and easy way to bless a family.
3. Helping around the home: Most people aren’t comfortable asking you to come clean their home but, let’s face it, when you’re taking care of a newborn or driving back and forth to the hospital, cleaning your toilet is low on your priority list. Tip: offer to pitch in and hire a one time cleaning company, the family may be more comfortable having strangers scrub the baby puke off their floor.
4. Parking at the hospital is expensive! If a family is in for an extended stay and has a vehicle, designate money towards a parking pass.
5. Babysitting: If a family has older children at home and a baby in the hospital, they’re probably juggling visitations between them and would appreciate some extra help. For parents dealing with loss, they may also just need some time alone together to grieve.
6. Prayer & Encouragement: While we personally weren’t up for a lot of visitors right away, we felt super blessed just knowing that people were thinking and praying for us. A quick message, text or email meant a lot to us.
Obviously these suggestions won’t work for every family as each situation is unique. Help comes in many forms and for new parents, encouragement and genuine conversation is always the best place to start.