TEN WAYS TO HELP AN OVERWHELMED, TOTALLY EXHAUSTED MOM, even though her situation is chronic.
Somehow, in the world of chronic illnesses, we moms (dads, kids) are supposed to be super human. In crisis, we get support. If we get better, people are happy. If we die, people bring casseroles, but chronic? That sucks. People don’t want to bring meals for years. They don’t want to do your dishes once a week FOR LIFE. But they still would (maybe) like to do SOMETHING. . but not something that makes them lose their soul in the muck of the chronically ill world.
Trust me. If you do something ONCE, it doesn’t mean you have to ever do it again. No one is keeping score, and if they are, they have too much time on their hands (and I highly doubt any mom has too much time on her hands).
Here are 10 things you can do.
1.) Send a card. Yes, an old fashioned, “Thinking of You” card. They help. Isolation is hard. Really hard.
2.) Take her kids to the park. Just call and say, “I’d like to come over and take your kid to the park.” It’s that easy. Really. Kids of chronically ill moms don’t have a blazing social calendar.
3.) Arrange a team visit. Plan a clothing exchange to help brighten her wardrobe. Plan a netflix night and sort socks while you watch something fun. Bring the gals (call ahead if she is an introvert) and remind her what it feels like to be well.
4.) Run a couple of errands. Is there anything you need at costco? My friend, who has THREE kids with congenital illnesses (not to mention the ones she and her husband have that started the ball rolling) texts me from costco. EVERY time she is there. “Need anything?” Do that. Do that when you are at Target. Or the co-op.
5.) Invite her places. Even if she says no EVERY TIME, she wants to be invited. Let her say no a million times. Some day, she might say yes. Take her out for tea, or for a pedicure. Even better? If she has a partner (well or not well) get folks to reach out to him/her as well. Much like kids with chronically ill moms, not a lot of big social events hit the calendar of people whose partners are chronically ill. So get your own partner to invite him/her for poker or band practice or tennis in the park. Isolation is the worst part of chronic illness.
6.) Ask her about her illness. If you tell her she looks great (remember, invisible illnesses don’t always make you look like crap), make sure you follow that with, “Do you feel as good as you look?” It’s an opening. My friend Ellen would always say to me, “You look great. I bet you feel like shit.” Opening. Just give her an opening. She won’t flood you with the drama. And even if she does, trust that she needs to flood. Because we look great, it doesn’t mean we feel okay. We’re good at faking it.
7.) Applaud her for her difficult life. Say it out loud. “I think you are so amazing for handling all this. You are SO strong.” Refrain from all the positive thinking talk. Avoid the. . “it will get better” talk, because, maybe it won’t. Let the present be okay.
8.) Share resources, if you can. Remember that having sick kids and being sick with little or no income is REALLY hard. If you can share your extra produce, or your farm share when you are on vacation or any bounty you might have, trust that pride and shame left the building a LONG time ago. Share. You’ll feel good. She’ll be honored.
9.) Bring Beauty. Send over a bouquet of cut flowers from your garden. While you are there, refrain from telling her about the last infomercial you saw about how to cure her illness. She’s smart. She’s connected. She’s more connected than she wants to be. No network marketing solution needed.
10.) Offer something specific. Instead of saying, “Let me know if there is anything I can do,” just offer something. I’ve been saying this for years, and love the reminder from Nice Girl Notes: Be Specific. Natalie Goldberg said it years ago in her books about writing. And I say it now. Be very clear and directed in your offers. I’d like to take your son to the Science Museum (or the pool or the library or ?) this thursday at noon. Would that work, or should we pick another day?”
Just because our situation is chronic doesn’t mean you are trapped in the helper role. I won’t suck you dry. I promise. I can’t say the same for other chronically ill people, but all you can do is try. Please do.