My Column in this coming week’s CJN, came from a mother who had so much to deal with, she felt she had to reach out, not so much for advice, but to get the word out about how unsupported she felt when her daughter was sick in the hospital. If her words help even one parent sitting alone at night in a hospital with their sick child, then her goal will have been reached.
This year hasn’t started out all that well. The day before the ice storm last month, Emily, my nine-year-old, took sick. She was lethargic, pale and confused, so I took her to The Hospital for Sick Kids while my husband stayed home with our seven-year-old.
Testing revealed a blood disorder. The next couple of weeks were brutal. I called work and said I wouldn’t be back for a while, and my husband held down the fort at home, coming down to visit and relieve me every few days. I basically moved into the hospital with my daughter, who was scared and wanted her mommy.
As I write this, Emily is sleeping in her own bed, her red blood cell count has improved dramatically, and the doctors are hopeful that she’ll be fine.
Our family sure could have used some friendship and support throughout this ordeal, but some of our friends were away on holidays and most who were in town were afraid to “bother” us. Are you kidding me? I needed a friendly visit, phone call or even a supportive text message.
My sister helped when she could, mostly on weekends, but she lives far away and has her own family. We have a large circle of friends, but with the exception of a couple of them, most wanted to “give us our space.”
I’m hoping that by writing this, it will alert people not to be afraid to call when someone is in crisis. You’re not bothering. I sure could have used a friendly face or a change of scenery, even if it was just company in the lobby for a coffee.
Friends are not supposed to be only for good times. I’m not going to be shy about this. I’m going to tell them how disappointed I am. This is not what I call friendship.
When the Going Gets Tough
Dear When the Going Gets Tough
First of all, it’s fabulous to hear that Emily is doing better. There’s nothing more important than that.
It’s funny how people react in a crisis. Some step up to the plate, while others seem to disappear.
Let’s face it: it’s uncomfortable to talk to someone going through a difficult life event, whether it be a sick family member or a shivah, visitation or funeral. Like you say, people are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, making a stupid remark or being insensitive. It’s easier to avoid the situation until things return to “normal.”
But I’m with you. We need to educate people and let them know it’s not OK to avoid difficult situations, especially when people close to you are suffering.
Here are some ground rules.
You’re not bothering when you call. Do you have any idea how boring sitting in a hospital is? A phone call is a break, a time when a parent can vent. It doesn’t matter what it’s about, whether it’s the lousy hospital food or how scared they are. You listen.
Even better, get down there and be with that parent. Bring some homemade food, a good book or a magazine. Call first, and offer to stop by their house to pick up anything they might need.
Being an early riser, when my nephew was in the hospital, I would get in my car at 5 a.m. and visit with my sister-in-law who never left his side. She appreciated the company, and I was there when the doctors made their rounds. I know she also appreciated being able to discuss their findings with a family member who cared.
Don’t forget about dad who is home with the other child, holding down the fort, working, making sure his daughter gets to school, gets picked up, has dinner, and has to get down to see his other daughter and relieve his wife, too.
If you think it all sounds like a nightmare, you’re right. Besides worrying about a sick child, the logistics of keeping the rest of the family from falling apart are important as well.
Take a casserole over, or a soup, salad or treat. Offer to pick up groceries or other supplies. Don’t ask. Just do it.
When you’re visiting, take your cues from your friend. If she or he needs to talk, you listen. If they want to hear about something else in the “outside world,” then you talk, but never overstay your welcome. You need to have your radar on high alert, and sense when they need to rest. You can even offer to let them sleep or shower or go for a walk while you stay and hold down the fort, making sure their child is not alone.
Be a friend in good times and bad. It’s part of life.