See Who Sticks

I saw this on Facebook.  This statement on the surface is so true….and often it is all the way true….

BUT…occasionally it is not.

With all our family went through with my husband’s cancer and passing away this year, we’ve had experience with people who stick and people who don’t.  We have had all sorts of people come out of the woodwork.  There are some people we thought would likely be helpful like the fire department and first responders here in town.  We knew our neighbors two houses down and across the street would be kind.  Some people, we just knew would.  We were so blessed when those neighbors plowed the snow…or brought us food.  What a blessing!

There were lots of people we had no clue would be so awesome.  There were blog readers who sent money.  That was so good for Kramer.  He was worried about how we would do without his income.  The money that came in helped him not worry.

There were friends and family who sent gift cards.  Not to long ago I found out from Kalissa that her and the kids put together a gift card shower for us via Facebook…we had no clue.  She went on Facebook and made a private group.  She invited our family and friends to the group then asked them to send us a gift card.  We had no idea.  Kramer never knew.  This was the sweetest thing ever.  Although the Fire Department guys asked again and again if they could put on a benefit for Kramer, he said no.  This gift card benefit was so perfect, he never knew, yet we were so helped.

We had friends of our children bring things…food, presents.  I can’t begin to name all the things that came our way.

We had people offer to drive Kramer to radiation.  It was so sweet that they did.  I’ll be honest, that was a big blessing for us both.  It was one day I could feel normal and not have to make that four hour trek.  I could forget for a moment that he had cancer.  I could imagine him being at work and I just had a normal day of childcare.  It was a gift for me and for Kramer.

There were a few people though that surprised me.  People I thought we were close to and didn’t come.  I didn’t dwell on it…but I did notice it.

At Kramer’s memorial service someone who didn’t come when Kramer was sick came to me and….
they sincerely apologized.  What they said was so heartfelt.  They said that they were so afraid to come when Kramer was sick.  They were so afraid to say the wrong thing.  They were so afraid to be in the way.  Mostly, they were afraid to be so close to Kramer’s illness that they would realize that this too could happen to their family.

I immediately told the person it was all okay and that I totally understand.  I’ve been that afraid person before.  I’ve done the exact same thing this person did.  I stayed away because of my own personal fear.

I’m not that person anymore.  Trust me, I’m still afraid but I refuse to let those fears dictate my actions.  I’ve seen up front and in person what the kindnesses mean.  They mean the world…so I’ll work through my fear and be there for others.

So…in light of the friend and I both feeling afraid, I’m making the assumption that others of you have also been paralyzed by the same fears.  You’ve stayed away because you didn’t know what to say, because you didn’t want to intrude, because you were afraid to get to close to see how you too could end up in a situation like we did.

I thought I would make a list of some of the kindnesses that were done for us so you might have an idea of something that you can do, should someone you know be in a crisis.

1-If they live a distance away from doctors-Gas gift cards
2-gift cards for quick stop food
for #1 and #2 research what places might be along the way the travel.
3-Wal-mart or big box store gift cards
4-Grocery gift cards
6-Amazon gift cards
7-books or magazines on topics of interest to the person
8-Local pizza place gift cards-we had people visit and nothing to feed them
9-freezer friendly food.  Cookies, bars, tator tot hotdish, lasagna, etc.
10-shovel their sidewalk
11-offer to help with a pet
12-pay for a hotel stay near the hospital
13-mow their lawn
14-pay for a TV channel that might interest them
15-if there crafty, buy something related to the craft-several of you did that for me and that was so sweet.

You can send a card in the mail and it is helpful.  You don’t even need to talk to the person face to face.  It might seem like a cop out, but it’s an okay one to do.  The person will know you are thinking of them.

In the case of a funeral
1-offer to watch their house
2-If bringing food bring freezer friendly food in pans that don’t need to be returned
3-bring a ham.  They freeze awesomely.  The family can use them whenever.
4-Bring paper products-paper plates, cups, toilet paper, napkins, paper towels
5-bring beverages, drink boxes if there are kids, beer, pop
6-Get a gift card for somewhere local to eat
7-offer to bring food to the funeral home if that is applicable
8-offer to watch young children of the family
9-veggie and fruit trays are awesome..meat and cheese too.
10-get a gift card to a local caterer

For us, someone went to the local bar and grill and put $100 down on a tab for our family.  How cool was that?

…and here’s a few suggestion on something PERFECT to say if you’re coming to the house in person.
-“I was thinking of you and wanted to help”
That’s it.  You don’t need to say more.  If the person wants to talk, t  hey will talk.  If they don’t then say…
-“I know you are busy so I’ll just sneak out.  Do know, I am thinking of you”.
or say
-“I have a few other errands so I’m going to go.  I will see you at the funeral”.

Seriously, that’s enough.

One more note while I am on the topic.  One of the best ways to give a memorial is by sending the money to the place you want the memorial to go to yourself.  Then in the card write “a $10 memorial was given in ___’s name to our local fire department”.  That way the family knows and doesn’t have the task of finding the address and information on where you would like the memorial to go.  Several people did this when Kramer passed away and it was helpful.

As tempting as it is when buying a memorial gift, note that so many people will give angels and items inscripted with “funeral/death appropriate” wording.  It’s an item that is very appropriate at the time…but the items don’t always grow with the people left behind.  I love Kramer dearly, but I don’t forever what to look at a ceramic statue of an angel’s outstretched arms….I don’t want to think of him as dead.  I want to remember the vibrant living self he was.  I don’t want to remember him sick.  For me, the statue is not a long term item.  It would not bring the happy memories five years from now.

One of the most treasured things that was done for us, was this:  A family sent a card a week or so after Kramer’s passing.  In the card were pictures of Kramer.  This one I treasure.

This is Kramer, living and vibrant.  This is how I want to remember him.  I am so thankful that the family sent this picture.  This is one I’m having framed.  I had never seen it before.  Also in the card, each family member wrote a little “I remember when Kramer….” note.  It was so personal and touching.

I hope this blog entry gives you some ideas on how to support a family in crisis.  I hope it also lets you know that if, in the past, you weren’t a friend who stuck around, there is still time to remedy that.  Send a note.  Say something simple….”I will forever feel bad about myself for not being there when you needed help.  I hope you can forgive me”.  Seriously…that’s all you need to do.  Most everyone who has been through this will understand.

I was so impressed by our friend who talked to me at Kramer’s memorial service.  Saying what she said that took a lot of courage, and I applaud her for that.  She had a special spot in her heart for Kramer and I know, seeing him hurting would have been hard for her.  I completely understand that it would have been hard for her to come.

So the saying on Facebook is true…True most of the time…but there are a few exceptions.  Sometime people are paralyzed by their own fear and just can’t stick.  I hope some of these ideas might help you to know what to do for a family in crisis…

…and one more thing.  EVERYONE says, “let me know if you need something”.  Seriously, I was so deeply entrenched in it all that I had no clue what I needed.  None of us did. If I did, I was too proud to ask.  So-my best advice…just pick something on the list and do it.

34 thoughts on “See Who Sticks”

  1. In our neighborhood here in Chicago, when there was a death on the block a team of neighbors would show up asking for suits to go the to cleaners, would shine shoes, and would take the family car to be filled with gas and washed before the funeral.

  2. Thank you for another awesome blog post. I also feel that I never know what to say or feel that I said something stupid. My favorite thing to do is the box of paper goods , TP, paper plates, napkins, etc.

  3. Thank you Jo. You’ve given the best advice that I have seen on this topic. You are a very special lady and if we lived closer I’d like to think we’d be good friends. ❤

  4. Wonderful post! Especially the tips of what to give when you don’t live nearby. I’m going to be printing this and putting it in my “know-it-all” binder!

  5. This so true, everything you wrote about. After losing our son in a farming accident 5 years ago, we learned a lot of things. Just even going to the wake to give a hug is sometimes just enough to let other people know we care. And the “things” you are right about. I used to give flowers or the statue, but since Brad died, I leave a memorial other places. Please know I care and you have helped many people with with your honesty.

  6. Good points, Jo. I also have done paper products and we also received a gift of them. Much appreciated. But the gift that has probably meant the most was a card and personal note on our 55th wedding anniversary and also one on Russ’ birthday. This from a friend not considered a “close” friend. But she has taught me a huge lesson in compassion at those times when I felt so alone. PMs from you, Jo, also made me feel like I’m not on my journey totally alone.

  7. Thanks for sharing your list, Jo!
    A couple other things that my friends did when we were having a family crisis:
    1. They came and organized my studio/guest room so caregivers would have somewhere to sleep.
    2. They paid for a house cleaner to come clean the entire house after we spent the better part of 2 months at the hospital.
    EXTREMELY helpful!!!

  8. Well said Jo. And 120% true.

    I will add this one: “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say”. People who turned away from me hurt. Saying this would be wonderful.

  9. Jo, so many times over the last year you blog has hit home for me. Today is no exception. I’ve been on both sides and understand all too well. Thank you for sharing your story and helping all of us to know how to act or react in this situation. One gift I received was a memorial photo frame. I donated it. I will never, ever gift something like that. I don’t want to remember my dad that way and feel this is something a person should buy for themselves if they want it. Thank you.

  10. Your post is spot on. I went through cancer treatment 6 years ago. I was amazed at the people in my life that stepped in and helped. I was also surprised at the people in my life that couldn’t handle seeing me so sick, and I didn’t hear from during the course of my treatment. In talking to other cancer patients, I discovered everyone going through a crisis has a few people in their lives that drop out of their lives. It is sad, but it happens. Thank you for giving such great advice and being so open about your life.

  11. Great post Jo. When my dad passed away several years ago a good family friend brought kid friendly cookies and three kinds of home-made candies. She also included coloring books and colors. The paper plates, napkins and toilet paper can always be used. Another one to add is coffee and Iced tea, those will be used for weeks when you have visitors that stop by to see how you are doing. Again a great post.

  12. Great ideas! When my sister died last year, my cousin came to my Mom’s house and helped me clean. She didn’t say “let me know what I can do to help”. She just jumped right in and helped. I was so grateful.

  13. Hi Jo,
    My quilting buddies have done things like this for members of our group. When one of our members is sick, we each take a night, and deliver a warm meal to the family in crisis. It usually helps them through at least the first week at home after whatever happened. This is a great list, thoughtfully prepared and came at great cost to you and your family. Thanks for sharing it. The picture of Kramer mowing a crop brought tears to my eyes. So many, many years I watched my husband mow hay in the summer. Can’t do it anymore, yet his heart is still out there. Its a keeper for sure.
    Blessings to you all!

  14. Comfort easy to fix food box is good for a family member who lives away from the main family, and all the leftover/freezer foods after the funeral. My co-workers did that for me after my grandmother died and I have done so since then. Things like soup, tea/coffee, sweets, and other easy to fix things.
    God Bless

  15. Jo – thank you for your suggestions and advice. I have a question regarding gifts done by PayPal since that seems to be used as a good alternative to a Go Fund Me. Do they keep part of the donation and do you know who made the donation?

    1. Sheri.
      If a donation is done through Paypal, use the families and friends option. If you do, there is no charge. The person does know who send it but only an email address. If you want the person to know more, leave a message in the comment box.

  16. Good list. I read most of these somewhere else. It’s nice that you write about this so you can spread the word even further via your blog.

    I live in an area with a lot of snow birds and so sometimes people don’t realize that someone has passed away because they’ve been gone for four or five months. After finding out about the death it’s okay to say something the next time you see them. And it’s okay to remember the anniversary a year later and send them a card that says thinking of you. And it’s okay if you bring it up and the other person cries. You’re not making them cry, you’re sharing their grief because believe me, they are crying enough alone. And when you’ve lost a loved one and people say ” I’m sorry for your loss” there are two words that you can always say, “thank you.” Then you can respond in one of two ways, a comment or two about your loved one that passed away or change the subject if you don’t want to talk about it that day or with that person. I usually ask them a question about their life or family and let them do the talking.

  17. I’m one of those people who never knows what to say. I’m also guilty of having good intentions and not following through. Thank you for all of the suggestions. You’re so good at teaching through life experiences, good and bad.

  18. Thank you Jo. Sometimes we have no idea what we can do for someone whose loved one has passed. Your post is perfect. Thank you so very much.
    Love and prayers

  19. Your suggestions are spot on Jo. “ Call me if you need anything” is just so lame! Our family has had several life changing events this past year and that was one phrase I swear I will never utter again! I was also surprised at family members who didn’t step up but friends who did!

  20. Avery well written piece for us all. I will keep this one for future reference. Sometime I find myself frozen over what can I do or say to be of help but when my sister got sick and I moved in with her for two months, I saw kindness and got offered help, all of it was a blessing. I now just respond and do “something”, even something simple can be helpful. Thank you for writing this blog.

  21. Oh Jo, this post reminded me of something I neglected to do when my father died. It has bothered me for years. My mother died 11 years before my dad. Just after his funeral, we waited for the coffin to go to the hearse and everyone stood around silently in the foyer of the chapel. There were about 200 people at the funeral, just standing around in the foyer, in the chapel, at this point.
    The funeral director had said to “take this time to talk to family and friends,” but NO one reached out a hand to me or to my brother and sisters and said, “We’re so sorry.” And I did NOT reach out my hand to any of them, either.
    This wasn’t because of fear or anger or sadness or anything – I simply didn’t THINK to do it. I was focused on getting everyone out to the cars to drive to the cemetery (yes, I am the oldest.) And NO one reached out to me and helped me through it.
    I no longer kick myself over my thoughtlessness. The sadness has gone, and I am ok with this. But I was so stupid at that moment.

    1. Ruth…forgive yourself for not reaching out. Grief can be parallelizing. Sometime we just do we do to get through. It’s a tough time.

  22. So timely for me. My best friend’s husband passed away yesterday. Last night I took paper products and tonight I am taking a meal. I texted my friend before I planned either of these things because I wanted to be sure that these were things she really needed. So often the family has to hustle to figure out a place to store all of the food that people bring, then lots of it is wasted because it is not freezer friendly or because they run out of space in the refrigerator or freezer. And you probably agree that sometimes a big hug is all that is needed.

  23. Judith Fairchild

    Thank you a million times for your timely post! You are so right! When my husband died the people who stepped up to help were some I hardly knew. Some were family. The worst for my me was no one in my husband’s family came or sent even a card. The reasoning was an older brother had died the previous week. It’s been a long time and I’ve let it go. It would have been nice to get at least a card.

  24. All good things that we never know until it happens to us. I will never send a live plant to a bereaved person. That was the last thing I wanted to do..was take care of something else…I was so numb when he died that I would just walk around letting them die, until finally I gave them away. A card with a note…or a gift card for the worth of the plants sent would be better. I know now what I never knew before….Sorry you are on this journey too.

  25. I am new to your blog, and I am enjoying all you share. I did not know of your dear husband’s passing, and I pray now for your continued grief and adjustment. Thank you for sharing things that were helpful to you in this past year. All of us need to be reminded of what we can do to help and love those around who are going through such difficult times. Thank you.

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