Suggested “Anythings” for the “Let me know if I can do anything.”

I hope my last post didn’t offend anyone or come off the wrong way.

I’ve had many people offer to help and many people follow-up up on that offer.

If you want an example of a group of individuals who’ve really gotten the “Let me know if you need anything” offer down to a science, look no further than…..

Jamey’s former TD Bank team.

Here’s a quick glimpse of just a few of the things they’ve done for us over the past seven years.

Their help usually starts with a quick email consisting of a potential offer–something like this, “Hey, we’re having a cookie bake-off benefit for Jamey. If you guys are around Monday, feel free to stop by. Otherwise “so and so” can drop the cookies off at your house Tuesday if that’s a good time.”

It’s as simple as that. And sometimes cookies are involved. Really, really delicious cookies.

I believe wholeheartedly that almost everyone I’ve ever been on the receiving end of an offer of help from really meant what they said.

And I know that many of you have people in your communities who are going through a tough time that you’d really love to help out. But you just don’t know what to do.

Maybe they’re a casual acquaintance and you feel uncomfortable calling them out of the blue.

Maybe you barely have any money to put food on your own table, let alone someone else’s.

Maybe your cooking skills are limited to microwaved popcorn and toast.

Here are some ideas for how you can help.

These ideas have come not only from my own personal experience as a caregiver, but also from years of working for The Emmanuel Cancer Foundation as a caseworker for families affected by pediatric cancer.

Again, if you have any other suggestions, please feel free to add:

Useful Websites:

  • Lotsa Helping Hands— My friend Erin suggested this website and said it is a really good one for setting up a comprehensive schedule of help for families in need.

Useful Giftcards:

  •    Wawa–(apologies to all friends and family who don’t get to experience the nirvana that is Wawa.)  When           Jamey was inpatient at Penn for 3 months, I practically lived at the WaWa I passed on the ride into Philly. Most Wawas today are Super Wawas, meaning they serve gas in addition to coffee and quick snacks………..Huge help for people who are traveling a lot for hospital visits, need quick, on-the-go meals and need to fill their ever-emptying gas tanks.
  • Grocery stores–this one’s  self-explanatory. Food is necessary for survival, ‘nuf said.
When Caeley found out this was the store her "Grandma Noreen" used to shop at when Jamey was young, she made me stop the car and pull over so she could take a picture.

When Caeley found out this was the store her “Grandma Noreen” used to shop at when Jamey was young, she made me stop the car and pull over so she could take a picture.

  • Target Walmart, etc—these super centers are great for one-stop shopping. When you’re short on time and long on need, finding everything under one roof is often a God-send.

  • Sears  Kmart—let’s say you know the family in need has got a washing machine on the fritz. You probably can’t afford to buy them a new one, but, if a few people each give a $25 gift card, the family is that much closer to cleaner clothes.

  • Jiffy Lube-ok, this one may sound weird, but if someone is receiving chemo/radiation or if a child is in the hospital, chances are a family is making daily trips to and from the hospital. This adds on mileage to your car really quickly. And a safe and reliable car is a must when you’re a caregiver.

Now I want to eat peanut butter.

  • Restaurants–sometimes it’s nice to get out and just seem normal again. A gift card to a local restaurant, ice cream store, coffee shop will not only be a financial relief, it’ll be a subtle nudge to the family to get out and have fun.

Our “go to” restaurant within walking distance of Penn. I miss it.

  •  Salons, spas, nail salons, massages–this can be as fancy or practical as the individual needs. Both adults and kids alike need haircuts, so a gift card to a local hair cuttery/salon will be useful for the whole family. Try to find out if the family has a specific place they go and get one from there. Most caregivers spend the majority of time/energy on someone else. A gift card for a pedicure or massage may be the subtle reminder they need to take care of themselves for once.

Useful Domestic services:

  • Laundry–When I was working with Emmanuel Cancer Foundation, this was one of the biggest issues that families faced. Almost all the families I served said they became overwhelmed with piles and piles of laundry. If you(or the family) isn’t comfortable doing the laundry at home, perhaps a laundry service/dry cleaner is a better route. Some dry cleaners even have a drop-off/pick-up service. Worth looking into.
  • Lawn services–Cutting the grass, raking and weeding are all tasks necessary for home upkeep. They’re also time-consuming, tedious and often placed on the back burner when you’ve got more important things going on. The entire summer after Jamey’s first surgery, my neighbor Steve mowed our grass. I don’t even remember him asking if we needed help with it. I do remember Jamey and I both being very thankful that he did it, however. These are chores even young kids can help with. You could make this a family project!
  • Snow removal–C’mon, even the healthiest of us would consider it a dream if we woke up one morning after a considerable snow fall to a clean car and snow-free walkways. It happened to me once and I never found out who did it for us. I suggest you try getting homeowner approval first, in case you decide to shovel under cover of darkness and they are gun-toting NRA members. Just sayin’.
  • Handyperson services–Now, this one can get a little dicey, especially if the ill person is also the main home fixer-upper. If that’s the case and the individual wants to maintain normalcy and “do it him/herself”, by all means, let them. But offer to assist/be a spotter. You don’t have to be Bob Villa-level in your DIY skills to help people out. It could be as simple as cleaning gutters or weather proofing or hanging pictures.
  • Foodstuffs-When Jamey was inpatient for 3 months with meningitis and hydrocephalus, I spent a lot of time traveling to and from Philly. I spent no time cooking.

I was very lucky to have a close connection with the school Caeley was attending at the time Guardian Angels Regional School.

(The video below shows Caeley’s excitement over Fat Tuesday(or Fat Wednesday as she calls it a few times) and Lent. It was taken 5 years ago when she was still attending Guardian Angels).

I have no idea how she knew about the beads.

All I did was shoot a quick email out to the Guardian Angels, school administrator, “Miss Cindy” that I needed some help with rides for Caeley to and from school.

She emailed me back the next day not only with a completely organized pick up-drop off schedule of parents who’d be shuttling my spawn, but also a weekly meal chart.

It was awesome.

No matter how uncertain things were at the hospital, I had the comfort of knowing that Caeley was taken care of. I am forever grateful for the degree of help and support the entire school gave us while Caeley was there.


Quick Tips About Foodstuffs

  1. Check, please: Make sure the family actually needs food. (Remember, Don’t Ask, Do Tell). Maybe their fridge is busting at the seams, but their cupboard is bare. Ensure that what your providing is what the family can use.
  2. See ya, seafood; pass on the peanuts: Make sure the family doesn’t have any food allergies. And don’t assume that peanuts and seafood are the only ones out there. My sister-in-law is allergic to corn(so anything with corn in it like high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, corn-off-the cob is off limits for her.) In this situation,  Do Ask!
  3. Underwhelm:  Don’t cook for an army of 50. Most people have limited fridge/freezer space, so keep that in mind when planning out your meal. If you are going to make a lot, divide the containers into smaller, manageable portions.
  4.  Containment: In addition to placing food in smaller containers, make sure the container is one the family can freeze, if necessary, and add to their own assortment of storage containers. Although your Baked Alaska may have looked divine on your Great Aunt Noreen’s antique serving tray, that tray is just one more thing the family has to worry about washing, keeping off to the side and returning back to you someday.  Don’t give meals away in containers you have any hopes of seeing again. You might not get your wish. Oh, and sending a meal in along with a box of ziploc freezer bags is helpful, too!
  5. Snack Attack: Don’t underestimate the importance of snacks. Many people have altered tastes when undergoing chemo. Some can’t handle a large meal. I’ve found that variety packs of crackers, chips, cookies, granola bars are really helpful. If you’re helping out a family with young children, warehouse size boxes of Goldfish is a great idea.
  6. Sundries/fundries: Think outside the box sometimes. What are some items you buy on a regular basis—bread, toilet paper, Nehi grape soda? Buy a family a case of bottled water, paper plates and batteries. If they have young children at home, give them diapers and wipes. Maybe throw a themed-delivery basket together for them–cleaning products or pet supplies? Be creative, be silly, have fun.

Useful Lip services(Hey now….):

Here’s one of the easiest, yet seemingly most difficult things you can offer someone going through a tough time–talk to them.

Don’t ignore them.

Don’ t avoid calling them because “you don’t want to bother them” or “you thought they’d be too busy to talk” or whatever excuse you can come up with that serves no other purpose than to further isolate people who already feel isolated enough.

Here’s the thing–it’s not as if when someone becomes sick, they forget how to put their cell phone on silent or lose all understanding of how to turn on an answering machine.

If the family doesn’t want to be bothered, they’ll let your call go to voicemail.

If they’re too busy to talk, they’ll text you back when they can.

 And maybe sometimes it will be days or weeks until they text you back. And sometimes they never will.

And that’s ok. Don’t take it personally.

One of the biggest complaints that I heard repeatedly from the caregivers I used to work with was their feeling of being disconnected from the real world–severed from comfortable connections to their past lives.

One telling example was of a mom who had always served as room parent for her son’s class. When her son was taken out of school after being diagnosed with leukemia, no one from the class ever reached out to her again about her room parent responsibilities.

She told me she actually would’ve helped out if anyone had asked because she really liked her son’s teacher and was really close with a lot of his classmates.

She felt hurt, rejected and awkward.

I’m sure the other room parents thought they were doing her a favor by taking this responsibility off her plate, but for her, being a room parent was what was normal.

All it takes is a quick email or text(no body under the age of 85 talks on the phone these days, anyway) to let the person know you’re thinking about them.

I guarantee it’ll make the heart of even the grinchiest of grinches skip a beat.

It’s free.

And priceless.

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