We’ve all been there. A family or loved one is reeling from a new diagnosis, or still being tossed by recurring storms from an old diagnosis. We want to help, but honestly words escape us, distance limits us, and confusion immobilizes us. We feel inept pondering where to even begin to lighten their heavy load.
Not to worry! Here are 101 ways you can help ease the suffering of a family battling special needs complications that will be truly appreciated! (Kudos and credit for the bulk of these ideas goes entirely to the awesome friends and family God has blessed our family with, and the ideas they’ve been creative and generous enough to implement themselves. We remember and we thank you!)
Maybe everything on this list will not be practical for your situation. That’s ok. Vault over the ideas you can’t make happen and focus on the ones you can! Or maybe you’ll feel that despite the stretch it may cause you, a more involved idea is what God is leading you to do. Follow and trust Him, and see what a blessing it is to both you and the ones you serve, when you step out in faith!
Without further ado, here we go! Here’s ideas 1 through 52 of 101 ways to help a family battling chronic illness…
1. Pray. For months after our daughter was first diagnosed, when people would ask whether God was answering prayers for us we’d respond, “Yes, because of your prayers God sustains us and we are still trusting Him. That’s how God is providing right now. Keep praying for healing.” Prayers for courage, wisdom, discernment, perseverance, closeness to Christ, etc are always welcome in addition to those for healing.
2. Make meals. Our daughter wasn’t in the hospital one full day before our school started a sign up for meal prep and stocked our freezer so that food was the last thing in our worry box for weeks.
3. Gift groceries. We have one friend who shows up every week with a bag of 2-5 items: avocados, applesauce, veggies or fruit. Another friend offered, for months, to travel over an hour away to haul special flours back to our house. Recently, a friend bartered a special rate and then paid for a cooler full of meat. Regardless of diet, you can never go wrong gifting paper products.
4. Send the children impromptu gifts. I can’t tell you how many times a small craft, book, or personal item has arrived for our daughter on one of her worst health days. Others obeying God’s leading and timing has resulted in blessing after blessing. (Btw, these do not have to be new gifts. One of the most touching gift bags received was from a large family where each child went through his/her own stash at home to send something special to cheer our child.)
5. Listen and be present. The people who have helped us the most emotionally and spiritually are ones who excel at non-judgmental, compassionate listening. You don’t have to actually live nearby to be “present”. Some of the most “present” friends are ones we chat with electronically.
6. Provide respite care. Even if you’re not comfortable babysitting a special needs child all by yourself, offering to watch the kids, in the house, while a parent locks him/herself in their bedroom or bubble bath for some down time is a huge blessing.
7. Send money. Insurance does not cover every medical cost. Further, in the case of incurable diagnoses, many parents will look to viable alternative sources to alleviate their children’s suffering, none of which will be covered by insurance. One special needs mom told me: “Our costs are mounting, but for us we decided not to do a GoFundMe page. We have nothing against them. My husband and I just know God is going to provide through His people for us this time.” And, He has.
8. Provide diet-specific special items. Figure out how to make a “treat” that is acceptable on the special needs diet. Make a batch to eat and a batch to freeze.
9. Send the parents special gifts. Parents of special needs kids don’t always have the extra means to buy for themselves. Pay attention to their lives and needs. Here are some examples of things done for us and other special need couples: $20 toward take-out to bring home for a date night after the kids are asleep; a new shirt off the clearance rack, a new tea cup, a coffee mug, Starbucks, loose leaf teas, Disney gifts, a Roku, a blu-ray player, stress-stash cookies or candy, journals, a massage, a hair appointment, a pedicure, a manicure, earbuds, a bluetooth, a phone case.
10. Get permission, then ask if your church leadership to pray over a sick child. This blesses both the parents and the children tremendously and does not have to be a one time only event.
11. Send cards. A card in the mail, expressing care and concern, means a lot.
12. Include them in invitations, even if they can’t come, and keep on including them. Do not take it personally if they don’t make it. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the randomness of the chronic illness they’re fighting.
13. Listen more than you speak. Listen MORE than you speak. LISTEN more than you speak.
14. Cry with them. There are few things that show you feel another’s pain with them better than sharing their tears, be it a child or an adult.
15. Hire a house keeper. A clean home may help decrease stress levels and take non-imperative chores off a family’s mental to-do list. It depends on the family, so check with them first.
16. Hire a parent’s helper. This was a unique blessing an intuitive soul thought to provide us several times a month through the summer this year. They pay a teenager to be in our house, managing chores and our littlest one, during our daughter’s most seizure-prone hours. A God-send.
17. Write private notes and messages to the hurting child encouraging them. Sometimes kids need to have outlets other than mom and dad to write to who also tell them that they’re understood, strong, and brave, and encouraging them in courage, faith, and hope.
18. Write private notes to the hurting parents encouraging them. Parents need this too.
19. Cover their shift at work. Sometimes your co-worker is going to need to call in because of the chaos of special needs at home. Covering their work load completely, competently, and without complaint when this happens is a treasured blessing.
20. Take their class at church or school. Once I remember going up to teach a children’s church class only to learn I’d been removed from the schedule. The co-teachers voted and decided to remove the extra strain of that responsibility from my life. After the initial shock, this was a huge sigh of relief. Be understanding if a parent of a special needs child feels they need to remove themselves from teaching rotations.
21. Buy books for the child suffering on their disease, with their parent’s permission. Once, we took our child to the library to learn, in an age-appropriate way, more about her illness, and there were no books to borrow discussing her illness. A friend found a book online, okayed it with us, and bought it for our child.
22. Send books on suffering that meant something to you during a dark time (or let them borrow yours with all your highlights and margin notes and questions). We’ve had a couple friends do this, and when we can fit that reading into our schedule, it’s a blessing.
23. Write letters of spiritual encouragement. What these letters should not do: imply the parents are spiritually decrepit and incurring God’s justice, or failing. What they should do: encourage them to hope in God’s future grace.
24. Sacrifice your own family vacation to give them one. Maybe this means you financially pay for them to take a break, or maybe it means you give them your time share or cabin for a week. Be creative.
25. Donate to causes that research cures, in the name of their child. Touching and extremely practical. There is nothing a family wants more for their child (after salvation and Christ-like character) than a cure.
26. Help them run their own fundraisers. Parents of special needs kids are exhausted. Perpetually. When they decide more money must be raised, they become more drained putting fundraisers together. Ease their burden by offering to pitch in.
27. Or run your own fundraiser on their behalf. Wowza. What a help. If you’re gifted in fundraising, offer to take this completely off their shoulders.
28. Send their kids to special needs camp, or send their family to special needs family camp. Special needs camps are expensive. Our daughter went for the first time this year under an agreement that as parents we’d pay a flat fee we could afford and then ask friends and family whether they’d help donate to help the camp run too. We have amazing friends and family who supported this cause with sacrificial excitement.
29. Volunteer child care. Parents need babysitters for their healthy children in a variety of circumstances, sometimes last minute. Can you serve on their on-call list?
30. Volunteer for organizations that provide respite opportunities. Like Make-A-Wish, Give Kids the World Village, Ronald McDonald Houses, and dozens of others.
31. Donate to organizations that provide respite. See above.
32. Donate children’s items to hospitals. Blankets, books, games, crosswords, crafts, toys, hats, scarves, stuffed animals. Most hospital children’s wings stock these donations to entertain the children admitted there.
33. If they’ve gone public with their story, like or share their pages. This is an encouragement to them. Comment or PM/DM when you’re praying for them.
34. Educate yourself about the illness they’re fighting. Consider not only clinical research, but read stories of people actually living through the exact same things. There are lots of good reasons to do this, but it will also enable you to relate better.
35. Make or gift them an inspirational music CD or send them a playlist. We’ve had this happen a few times and it has been a right-on-target blessing each time.
36. Share inspirational blogs with them, privately. Read something that reminds you of the family you want to minister to? Share it! Just make sure you’re not sharing instructions on how to cope better, parent better, or be a better Christian in their trial. Those feel more like a slap on an already gushing wound.
37. Have your school class make cards and send them, as a bunch, to the sick child. Several teachers at our school did this for our child and she saved every single card.
38. Educate your own children about their child’s disease, and teach them how to respond. We have been blessed with a handful of friends who have gone out of there way to educate their kids on how to react to seizures and side effects (in our daughter’s case). They use correct terminology. They watch Youtube. They follow our posts and share what’s age appropriate to help their kids understand.
39. Let your kids take the risk of being friends with a sick child. Yes, your child may witness a seizure (our case), drooling, odd behaviors, tics, breathing tubes, insulin packs, accidents, etc. Yes, your child may experience the pain of loss if a sick child passes. Yes, a family battling chronic illness understands those are horrible stressors and heartache to consider exposing to your child. Be brave. Sick children desperately need good friends too.
40. Keep making playdates. Your chronically ill family may cancel and reschedule 100 times because of health changes, doctor’s appointments rescheduling, etc. Try again.
41. Even if you’re relative strangers, extend kindness. Once after a cluster of seizures, we ended up having to wait hours in the ER waiting room. Our child spent much of that time nauseous, running to and from the bathroom, and nursing a migraine and severe muscle pain as silently as she was able. After about an hour of this, a complete stranger approached with a drawing he’d just made, in the waiting room, for her. Another time, a hospital roommate who only stayed for 24 hours in our suite sent up a gift package from the gift shop upon their discharge. We’ll never be able to thank them.
42. If you know your friend is getting a wish from Make-A-Wish, find out how you can enhance their wishes. We had people volunteer a horse riding lesson while our child waited for her true wish. Another person donated tickets to watch a game at our favorite football stadium. Our school principal, upper classmen, and teachers worked with MAW to surprise our child with a huge sign and award at a spring concert, where her wish reveal occurred. The choir director felt led to ask our daughter to sing at the same concert and helped her prepare. Investing in the children’s dreams helps them focus on something other than their pain.
43. Provide transportation. To and from doctor visits, or when their vehicles break down.
44. Fill their gas tank or send gas cards. You can never go wrong here.
45. Gift them family entertainment. One special family has dropped by several times with newly released kids movies the week they’re released for home viewing.
46. Fix a household problem they’re having. Is their sink leaking? Do they need a technology upgrade? Can you fix their child’s swing set, power wash their home, or help them fell a tree?
47. Pay for their car repairs. Once, while we were states away on a medical trip, someone, unbeknownst to us, took our vehicle into the shop here at home and had it repaired and detailed.
48. Buy them new tires or cover an oil change. Some special needs families put a lot of miles on their tires running to constant appointments. Routine maintenance is always a great gift.
49. Replace a failing appliance. We had a washer that we couldn’t afford to replace. My husband kept repairing it, every three months, for over a year because a new machine wasn’t as important as medical needs. The repairs were a costly to him time-wise and mentally exhausting. One day a neighbor of a friend of ours asked our friend to help move a washer in his garage. After asking what the extra washer was for, the neighbor replied that eventually he’d have to sell it. Our friend shared our situation and offered to buy it from the neighbor for us. The neighbor donated it instead. It was only six months old.
50. Show up with hugs and flowers. On the worst days, best friends have only to do this. Cut flowers from your garden and deliver them with a hug.
51. Call to check in and just listen and pray. Depending on the family, it may be unlikely that a special needs parent is going to call and bother you, out of the blue, with their problems. Try stepping out with initiative yourself.
Next week, we’ll go through ideas 52-101! The blog is already written! Stay tuned!
And, thank you for the many ways you bless us.