On my old blog (that had a fraction of the followers of my new blog) several people responded passionately to some specific (about 4 or 5) posts that I had made about various topics. So below I share a “best of” entry. This entry was actually posted on another blog that I sometimes write for (Speak Without Interruption) but the Facebook feedback was positive. So, here you go:
Amanda’s Approved Comments – or Things You are Allowed to Say to a Heart Mom (or any person whose loved one is REALLY sick)
I wrote the following for my book, Half Heart, Whole Life. I took it out before I started querying agents, but the book club who read an early copy LOVED this, so it might end up back in. I was inspired by Prentiss’ article about illness to share this. Enjoy.
When I started writing this book, all my Heart Mom friends said, “Make sure you put a list of all the stupid shit people say in it.” I did in the first draft and then my good friend, who is not a Heart Mom read that draft and asked,
“But, what can we say?”
It’s a fair question. People outside of this do-or-die, submit your kid to butchery and torment or watch them whither to death situation don’t know what to say. Sometimes they’re trying to be supportive but it doesn’t translate. So here are some things you can say and do that shouldn’t hurt.
Disclaimer, there are some people out there who are so sensitive that you can’t possibly ever do anything right, just give them a hug and be quiet. For the rest of us, here’s your list:
• I’m sorry this happened to your family, but I’m glad you have medical options to help you.
• Can we bring you some fresh fruit in the hospital?
• Do you need your sidewalks shoveled/lawn mowed when you’re in the hospital? (or don’t even ask, just do it)
• Can I take your other kids to the zoo/museum/park/etc. so they can have some fun?
• Can I come sit with your heart kid and read him a story so you can take a nap or a shower? (or go cry in private . . . this is really important, don’t go expecting to visit the sleep-deprived parents and think you’re going to get conversation, if they want to stay and visit, give them that option without expectation).
• Hey, I was going to get a rotisserie chicken on the way home, want me to bring you one too? (You can only eat so much hospital cafeteria food before you feel like you should to be admitted yourself)
• I know you’re really afraid and that you have really good reasons for your fear. I’m not trying to take that away from you, I just want you to know I’m here and I will listen.
• Do you need a hug?
• Do you like soduku? Crosswords? What kind of junk magazines would you like to have with you in the hospital?
• Wow, people sent you a lot of stuff for your kid! Would you like me to take some of it to your house for you so you don’t have to worry about all of it? I’ll even write thank you cards for you!
• I was at the store and saw these cute blank notes, so I got them for you and some stamps in case you need to be able to send anything out while you’re stuck here.
• Guess what, I picked up your mail and here are all of your bills, and I grabbed your checkbook too! (Seriously, this is helpful because these folks are sitting in the hospital worrying about what they can’t get done at home).
• I know it’s a private thing, but just so you know, if you need help with all this time off work and the medical bills, let me know and I’ll see if I can get my church, HOA, school, fraternal org, etc. to do a bakesale/garagesale/silent aucton/ etc. to help you guys out. No pressure, just know we’re here if you need us and people want to help.
• Would you like me to stop by your house and get you some more clothes so you don’t have to worry about doing so much laundry while you’re here?
• What’s your favorite kind of gum?
• Did you forget anything (dental floss, etc.) that I could run out and get for you? Or better yet, let me run you over to the store real quick so you can get a break.
• Want to take a walk?
• Wow, your baby has been through so much, but he still has such a great attitude, smile, laugh – whatever, (just don’t focus on how he looks – we all know he doesn’t look good so don’t say that).
• When you get home and settled back in, let me bring you a Starbucks. (or just keep on bringing the lattes)
• We all really care about you and we know this is harder than we can ever really know.
• Do you need a hug? (repetition on purpose).
• Wow, I can totally understand why you can’t let people smoke around your baby and are so sensitive to viruses with his compromised lungs and all. I didn’t realize before that these heart problems also affected the lungs so much.
• Of course I will wash my hands, in fact I brought you this great smelling new soap and lotion set! Let’s share!
• I realize that this is a life-long problem and you’re going to have ups and downs. Please know that we like to know your ups as well as support you in your downs because we’re with you for the whole ride.
Notice, I never once said to ask, ” What can I do for you?” because that’s like a pop quiz. They don’t know, don’t make your suffering friend work to make you feel better. You do the heavy mental lifting and figure it out.
The only big no-no that I’ve got which cannot be excused as foot in mouth or misplaced concern is this:
Unless she is the mother of your child or your own mother, never, ever, ever tell the mother of a child who is near to death how hard this is emotionally on you. You don’t get to do that, I forbid it. No matter how hard it is for you to see a child like that, unless it’s your child, zip it, lock it, and put it in your pocket. We’ll forgive you for just about anything else.