101 Ways to Help a Family Fighting Chronic Illness, Part Two

In my last blog, I listed 1-51 of 101 Ways to Help a Family Fighting Chronic Illness. This is the second part of that list! As I mentioned last week, the bulk of credit for these ideas go to the many people who’ve blessed either us or other hurting families we know, with their love and creativity. The Bible reminds us to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ”. Gal. 6:2. We have a treasure trove of people who’ve helped us do that.

Now, hang on tight! We’re starting out kind of heavy this time. That’s ok. The things we find heavy and difficult to manage are often more of a help than the things that come easily and automatically to us. And, what we don’t do may be as helpful as what we do do in loving others, well, through their hard times! (Try saying that little underlined phrase ten times, fast!)

Now, if you’re in it to win it, fasten your seatbelt and read ways 52-101 on how to help families battling chronic illness! In case of an emergency, exits from distressing portions of this blog can be located via the back and exit buttons on your electronic device!

52. Don’t imply that their child’s illness is God’s judgment on sin in their lives. Listen dear ones, unless you see some current, ongoing, obviously biblical, grievous sin they’re committing and not repentant for (that needs to be addressed privately and compassionately) it’s best NOT to assume you know WHY God is allowing a particular suffering. Remember how the apostles and Job suffered because they were doing right. Remember justice for every believer’s sin was completely paid for on the cross, and justice and discipline are not the same thing. Faith-filled Christian parents are already taking regular spiritual litmus tests, and -just like you- are regularly failing them. That doesn’t necessarily mean their sin is the root of their child’s suffering.

53. Don’t try to “fix” holes you feel they’re exhibiting in their faith. Unless you’re their closest friends, your view of what they’re dealing with and how they’re coping is extremely limited, based on a few hours interaction with them or heresy, and your perspective may need to be informed. Further, unless you’re having audience with the Lord Himself on what’s happening in other’s lives, your spiritual perspective on the “whys” in their situation are also limited. People who should be offering this depth of advice are those who are walking the trenches with them and investing in them daily, or whom they specifically go to for counsel. If you haven’t shared their tears first, you probably should not be offering advice.

54. Recognize, like Jesus, David and Job, its ok for them to be sad and to ask God for their trials to pass. There seems to be some fallacy that it’s wrong (sinful) for Christians to be sad and to grieve, or to ask for God to remove their trial. It’s ok for Jesus to cry because He was perfect. In every other instance, some people seem to believe, it’s a sin. Further some folks feel the need to analyze a family’s grieving to see whether they’re doing it “with [enough] hope” and not as the unbelieving world grieves. (Which requires a personal, often uniformed, judgment call.) There will be a blog on this one day. For now, listen people, this is theologically wrong. You don’t have to tell them to not be sad.

55. Recognize, like David, Job and others, it’s ok for them to have hard questions they direct toward God. Do we mind when our kids come to us, hurting, with their honest pain and questions? Why assume that God is offended by transparency? As long as they’re coming in faith, which is an issue of the heart which we can’t see, there’s no need to be appalled or spiritually shocked by believer’s hard questions in times of grieving. Read the Bible.

56. Be a friend who can hear those questions without trying to answer them, fix them, or correct them. If you’re in the “inner circle” of a hurting family’s confidant list, you may hear them say some shocking (to you) things when they’re hurting the most. Don’t assume this is how they feel everyday, or even how they’ll approach things tomorrow. Having a safe place where they can express their transient sorrows and pains as they wrestle through them, without judgement, is invaluable.

57. Trust God to heal them emotionally and spiritually. Maybe they ARE floundering. Worry not. If they are God’s, He will hold them fast.

58. Don’t tell parents God is allowing their child to suffer to teach and grow them, spiritually. Oh boy, people. Alright, here’s the truth: yes, God uses all our suffering in all His children’s lives to mature us in many ways. However, when you tell a parent that their child’s intense suffering is because they as parents needed to learn a lesson or because their young child or infant needed to learn a lesson, that begs a lot of theological and philosophical questions. Like, why are these particular parents so thick-skulled that torturing their child was the only way to get through to them? Was there no other way to teach this lesson? And why does Paul say that his suffering was specifically for the growth of the church?  In other words, he suffered so others could learn.  Amongst other things. Knowing God will use our suffering to grow and mature us is a blessing. Believing our suffering is because we have to be taught the hard way is not. There will be a future blog.

59. Be patient. Grieving is a process. Are you sick of the “Debbie Downer” friend? You’re not half as sick as he/she is living through unrelenting torrents. Give them time to be sad. They may not “get over it” when you think they should. Their grieving won’t happen on your timetable and likely won’t be processed in the same way as you process your grief. Grieving is a personal process.

60. Give them freedom to be sad around you. Sometimes medical fallout happens right before your happy, scheduled event. Sometimes, they’re so shell-shocked it doesn’t occur to them that they should stay home and repair, and they may show up at church, sunday school, the PTA meeting, or your GNO in tears. Don’t try to cheer them on the direct heels of a debilitating day. This requires sacrifice of your happy plans. Mourn with those who mourn. Don’t blow sunshine on their pain. You likely don’t have all the details.

61. Don’t judge their medical decisions. You might be a doctor. You might be a nurse. But, unless you are their doctor and nurse, you do not have all of the medical information you need to make a comprehensive analysis. The decisions they’re making are hard and often no-win scenarios. They need support, not judgment.

62. Privately offer medical information you’re aware of in a noninvasive way. Families battling illness will have many, many “birds” whisper treatment options in their ear, both from medical professionals and non-professionals. Done in a respectful and helpful way, these leads are always appreciated. Who knows if you’ve come across something they’ve never heard of which could help? Just don’t be offended if they go another route.

63. Start a program at your school or church for helping those with special needs. Once a friend of mine was reeling from a life changed by the special needs of her child. While cataloging the losses she was enduring, she shared that one of the things which hurt was that at the time when she needed church worship most, she was confined to the annex, handling her child’s special issues alone. She couldn’t make it into a Sunday school class or hear a sermon because there was no one in the church willing to learn how to manage her child’s needs for an hour. “Why bother going at all?”, she questioned,”It’s actually easier to care for my child at home.” Don’t know where to start? Look into sites like Joni and Friends’ “Education and Training” tab for support on how to get something started in your home church. We have great friends who took the same concept and applied it to making regular church camp work for our special needs child.

64. Help create a support group for grieving individuals. Do you have counseling or theology training or just a compassionate heart and a comfortable place where you’d be willing to have people meet? Ask your Pastor for a good book for your group to go through together on the grieving process. Provide free snacks and kleenex.

65. Plan time to get your friend out of the house and away from their hurting child for a short while. Unless the parents are separated or divorced and splitting child care equally, it’s likely that one parent may be invisibly tethered to the special needs child for a bulk of the day while the other one works to pay bills. Or,  in the case of a single parent,  trying to do it all. As much as each parent loves their child, sometimes they need to be out with their own friends enjoying adult things, alone, without a child.

66. Pay for their kids to be involved in activities. When covering medical fees, therapies, medications, travel fees, etc for a medically needy child, other things a child could do, to get out of the house themselves, may not be affordable anymore. Can you gift a dance class, basketball camp, softball with the local league, swim lessons, or an art class?

67. Donate your services. Once we ran a fundraising garage sale. A Christian couple we’d never met stopped by and asked about our story. Upon hearing it, the woman offered to provide her service of photography to document the coming of our newborn baby, complimentarily. Just because she loved Jesus and saw a way to serve. Do you photograph? Offer to take pictures at your local hospital of the children fighting there for their families. Do you sing? Offer your services free at a birthday party or a funeral. Do you bake cakes? Volunteer through Icing Smiles to provide complimentary birthday cakes to hurting children. Do you scrapbook? Contact Crops of Luv and get working on memory albums for children battling special needs.

68. Make your donation anonymous for the specific reason of freeing the family from writing another thank you note. A couple times some friends who still remain nameless to us, but whom God knows, sent cash for help with medical bills and specifically wrote “Don’t thank me. Thank God.” Tears and gratitude. We do thank God for providing through them, and pray for His blessing upon them.

69. Assume that there was a negative challenge related to the child’s disease behind Every, Single, Positive FB post. Just as it’s easy to assume that a healthy family’s life is idyllic based on their Facebook posts alone, it is equally easy to assume a sick child is “doing well”, “things are going good”, “they’re on the mend”, or “feeling better” just because you see a picture posted of them on the beach, at a venue, or smiling at a picnic. The nonexistent perceived “upturn” folks assume in a child’s health from FB photos or posts is uninformed. While a special needs family might post a video of their child surfing a wave at the local waterpark, they won’t post one of daddy and the lifeguard rushing in seconds later to haul the child out because she began absence seizing and could drown. While they may post pictures celebrating fun they had outside a park, it is unlikely they’ll post pictures of him sobbing and retching a half hour later, when his illness takes over. While they may post a family pic at the basketball game, they may not include video of the sensory-overload screaming that occurred when the first buzzer went off. While they may post a shot of his first bath, they may not post that he was intubated half a day later. You know what they say about assumptions. If a family doesn’t specifically say things are going better, don’t assume they are.

70. When appropriate, share your own story only to show relatable empathy or compassion, not to air your own grievances or point out you lived through worse. Nuf’ said.

71. Give them space. Sometimes people need to be alone to process all the changes. If they aren’t returning your calls, maybe it’s because they can’t speak about it right now.

72. Start or contribute to a college fund. Special needs families may not have IRAs, bonds and special college funds like you do, because they can’t. If you’re close enough to ask…see what you can do.

73. Cover their costs when you go out together.

74. Let them know when God brings them to your mind and you’re thinking of them or praying for them. Random texts and messages remind them that God is pressing them into the hearts and minds of others. He hasn’t forgotten them and neither have you.

75. Tell them privately what they’re doing right and well. You don’t have to make this a public accolade with banners, but kids with special needs may feel defeated often. Their parents may be beating themselves up about medical decisions that don’t work out, confused about what direction to take next, worried about how they reacted to the last crises, concerned for their healthy child, or a hundred other things. Encouragement is a free yet priceless gift.

76. Let them be a blessing to you. Have they offered to cover your expenses, donate furniture, bake you a cake, send money for your medical expense, pay for your meal, or buy your kids gifts? Let them! There was likely a time when they enjoyed being able to do these things, and more, without a second thought. Losing the ability to give is another huge loss piled onto their other losses, and constantly receiving is humbling. It is better to give than receive. As one friend reminded me recently, “Don’t try to steal their joy by telling them no, they can’t give.” Some of us literally daydream about all the giving ideas suffering has born in us that we didn’t have understanding of a decade ago.

77. Offer to do projects they can’t do, which would make their child happy. A friend who learned of our child’s interest in gardening, but realizing we didn’t need another large scale project or expense, purchased, prepped, and taught our daughter how to plant and care for pot gardens. She harvested her own potatoes, tomatoes and pumpkins.

78. Try not to say stupid things or use colloquialisms in response to their honest pain. Watch what you say. Less is more. If your responses to their honest answers are lengthy or full of euphemisms, they may be more hurtful than helpful.

79. Don’t compare pains. Resist the temptation to compare your pain to theirs unless you’re going through the same disease challenges right now. Sometimes this is totally appropriate and helpful and may depend on your relational proximity. However, lots of times, it’s just not.

80. Help them do research. We’ve had team members learn what therapies we were considering and help shorten our research hours by devoting some themselves. They look up scientific articles on current trends and studies or recipes and help us shorten the hours we log on the internet, kindle, or library.

81. Exempt them from bringing food to share at gatherings. If they’re on a special diet, it’s likely they may not have “normal” ingredients in their home anymore. Asking them to bring fudge brownies, for example, when they can’t have chocolate anymore and are allergic to eggs requires a special trip to the grocery store to get items others normally have lying around. Also, they’re likely already bringing a cooler of safe foods for their family alone.

82. Ask good questions. Nothing shows you’re seriously thinking through what their life now entails than well thought out questions. Be prepared, though, for honest answers. Unless you’re all already laughing together, don’t respond with jokes and euphemisms.

83. Wash and vacuum out their vehicle(s). Easy, simple, free, time-saving for the family.

84. Mow their lawn, or provide them with a lawn service. Again, saves them time and energy when they’re occupied with more pressing concerns.

85. Spend time alone with the parents. Often if their child is impacted by illness, there are many things a parent can’t and won’t say in the presence of their children, and parents of children with special needs may have less time around adult sounding boards at a time when they most desperately need it. Stop by for tea at nap time, call when they can chat privately, or visit a coffee house to ask your questions and listen.

86. Tag along on specialists appointments to babysit. Just like there are things the parents won’t discuss in front of their kids with you, there are detailed, distressing topics they may feel their young children should not be exposed to during a doctor’s visit. Your presence provides alone time for them to discuss hard topics with the doctor.

87. Invite the parents or the family over for dinner. This feels so nice. Getting out of the house to just enjoy a friend’s home and table is such a relaxing blessing.

88. Determine travel expenses for a medical trip and see if you’re equipped to meet a need for lodging, meals, or transportation. We’ve traveled out of state a myriad of times for specialist appointments. Several of those times, friends who lived in the area housed and fed us. Another time, a different friend paid our lodging fee and still another covered a car rental. Step in where you can.

89. Donate air miles to Make-A-Wish. Wish children fly to destinations all over the world to fulfill their one true dream. Can you partner with MAW by giving your travel miles to make these dreams come true?

90. Do something to make a sibling feel important, special, and seen. Parents of children battling special needs often have tri-tiered grief they’re managing. One tier belongs solely to the losses their healthy children have had to bear in attention lost, financial investment, and future opportunities compromised.

91. Offer to learn how to care for a medically needy child so the parents can go out on a date, or spend alone time with their other kids. This is self-explanatory, but it requires courage to take on this responsibility. Remember, there was a time when the parents didn’t know how to manage special needs either. They also learned by doing.

92. Share encouraging verses. Be discerning about this. Once, we received a “verse encouragement” 5 minutes after we’d watched a tonic clonic seizure squeeze the breath of life out of our child, and drag her through intense, horrible convulsions, with lips that turned blue as drool pooled beneath her jerking head. The verse said, “everything God does is just”. This was before she’d even regained consciousness. Needless to say, while this is a truth, these were the wrong words at the wrong time.

93. Give good hugs. 

94. Plan to do an art day with the kids. You provide the ideas, supplies and clean up.

95. Assist the family on an outing they couldn’t normally go on without extra hands. Example: It used to be that only one parent needed to be present for our children to go to the pool or beach. Our daughter was a good swimmer, leaving us to concentrate on our son who couldn’t swim. Now, both children need constant, present supervision in the water and going alone isn’t an option. Often children confined to wheelchairs need constant supervision, so families with other littles may not be able to visit places like the pool or zoo unless two or more adults are present. Other special needs may cause more difficult constraints.

96. Show up to just play a board game or send flowers. Out of town friends contacted us that they’d like to just stop by to play family games. What fun we had, even through seizures. This same family has sent random flower gifts just to make us smile.

97. Don’t hound them about being at every church service. It’s likely they’re not there anymore because their child’s illness precludes it in some way, or they’re still grieving and need to take happy, social interactions in smaller doses. They’re not “forsaking assembling together” just because they can’t attend every scheduled service.

98. If you’re going to ask how things are going, be prepared to accept an honest, direct answer instead of a platitude. Sometimes people ask because they expect to hear things are going well, then blow sunny phrases on your pain if they are surprised by your honesty. If you’re going to ask, listen well. You don’t necessarily need to offer a pick-me-up line. Empathic tears and silent presence are better gifts.

99. Give great advice; meet practical needs. We have a friend who noticed every time we mentioned a homeschooling struggle, and then showed up with take-it-or-not supplies, not hard-to-implement ideas. Other friends gave us the great advice to not stress the small stuff and “just survive” the first homeschooling year.

100. Get permission to take your trained therapy dog to the hospital to visit the children. You won’t regret this, and I can almost guarantee you’ll walk away more blessed than you went in.

101. Be in it for the long haul. It’s easy to see a family’s need of help when crisis initially strikes. It is much harder to hang with people inside of “pit circumstances” that drag on and on for months and years. Just because life moves on for you does not mean it has gotten easier for them.

I stopped cataloging at 101, but in reality, there are literally thousands of ways to ease the burdens of those suffering around us. All we need are eyes to see, hearts to feel, and hands and feet that act. May God help us all to love others well!

Have ways you’ve thought of to bless others with your faith, skills, time, gifts, ingenuity or possessions? Let’s hear them in the comment section below!

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