Being in the hospital can be scary, stressful, exhausting and generally awful. "What can I do?" is the single most common question I am asked when I am in the hospital with Sarah. I am deeply grateful for that. But I will not answer then; I cannot focus on the question. Here are some ideas.
1. Coffee. Hospital coffee is often terrible and terribly expensive. A nice cup of coffee is an easy thrill.
2. Visit. Not everyone can, and certainly no one can every time, but consider coming for a quick visit. A hug goes a really long way. Limit your visit though. Your friend is tired. They probably stayed up too late and were woken up too early. Stress is hard on the body too. It might feel like a waste to drive all that way for a short visit. It isn't.
3. Food. Hospitals vary, of course. Some are better than others. But even in a hospital with good food, food from the outside will be appreciated. Hospitals and even units within hospitals all have different policies about food, so check. The policy is very likely online.
4. Money. This is something no one is going to ask for when you ask what they need, but I promise it is almost certainly needed. Even with great insurance, hospitalizations rack up costs. Food, parking, gas- none of these expenses will break the bank in a day. But days and weeks add up very quickly. I can give a pretty accurate budget run down for each of the hospitals we frequent- some are much harder on the bottom line than others! Even if we stay afloat during the hospitalization, it is really hard to catch up when you begin to fall behind on bills. I don't hear people talk about this a lot, but nearly every family I know who has a kid who spends time in the hospital is behind on bills. This is why. We are on the same tight budgets that most people are on; the surprise expenses of an unplanned or extended hospitalization can throw the whole budget for months! If money makes you uncomfortable, or you think it will make your friend uncomfortable, think gas cards or grocery cards.
5. Take the siblings out. Spoil them. You will have my undying affection if you make my children happy during these times. Kids struggle a lot when their siblings are in the hospital. They get less of their parents when they need more. They are worried. They are scared. They might be feeling like they are less important than their siblings. They even be might be mad. Give them a break from full focus on their sick sibling.
6. Smile. No one does. People think they should feel sad. The thing is, moods are contagious. Bring a little joy. Sing with them. Laugh with them. Don't force a mood you don't feel, but don't leave all the smiles at the hospital door either. We need them inside.
7. Tell your friend you are going to pray, and then do it. Join the prayers of your friend for health. Add prayers for your friend. Maybe write out a short prayer. When my friends ask for prayers, I pray right away. I will forget if I put it off. It doesn't take long, and I can pray later too. God listens and he knows what they need, so this does not have to be complicated. Let your friend know you are praying. Just knowing you are thinking of them is helpful in and of itself. If you don't pray, send good thoughts. That's helpful too.
8. Care packages. Care packages are a tried and true method of making someone feel loved. In a hospital care package send a mix of things they might need and things that will make them happy. This does not have to be a huge expensive thing. Here is a list of things you might consider including:
- clothing (for the friend or the kid. They are not home. Laundry might be a complication. The kid is probably in a hospital gown, but they will have to go home at some point, and the clothing they came in is probably dirty.)
- a real toothbrush and/or razor (we always forget to bring them.)
- books or magazines, for either the patient or the parent
- a toy for the patient
- a real mug
- lotion or shampoo samples or lip gloss
- Silk flowers or balloons. Real flowers are allowed on some units, but not most.
- a coloring book. I suppose you could get one for the kid too.
- Essential oils are a great choice. Think calming blends. I bring a roller bottle with frankincense and lavender in almond oil.
9. Dinner for the family at home. This simple gesture should not be underestimated.
10. Offer to sit with the patient while your friend takes a shower or a walk. Or even goes out for a meal with their family. One of the hardest things about being there as a parent is that you feel guilty leaving, even for a minute. You cannot solve this problem for your friend, but you can offer a reprieve.
Keep asking what you can do. In the moment, your friend might not be able to answer. They'll be tired. Their mind will be occupied. When I am asked, if I answer at all, I am likely to say something inane like, "bring me a fresh towel and a banana." But you know, I heard what you meant to say. I heard, "I love you and I am here." That is huge. That's the biggest thing on the list.
It can be isolating. You are the village. Just be there.