Helping People Through Illness and Loss

| By Casa de la Luz

“We cannot all do great things, but we can all do simple things with great kindness.” Mother Teresa

Years ago I read a story in Reader’s Digest about shining shoes. Since then, the story has helped me to be a better person and a better friend. 
The author’s relative had died suddenly, and the family was in the chaos of travel preparation. In the midst of that activity, a neighbor stopped by and offered to shine their shoes. Surprised, and a bit puzzled, they accepted.
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Parents and children continued in a whirlwind of grief and packing. Off to the side, the neighbor quietly gathered travel and funeral shoes. He carefully cleaned them, gave them a good polish, and wrapped the ones bound for a suitcase. Then he left. 
Later, the author remembered this simple act of kindness for several reasons. It was a caring action.It put no demands on the family. It took care of a detail they for which they had no time.  It allowed a quiet and peaceful presence to enter their home in the midst of chaos. And it demonstrated the neighbor’s support in their time of need.
Usually, when someone is ill or has just died, we offer “to do anything I can to help.” In this case, the neighbor went beyond offering “anything.”  He observed the families’ needs and offered a service that he could provide while the family continued doing what they needed to do. 
It also reminded me of my family’s experience. My brother and I, ages 3 and 4, had been hit by a car in our front yard, but not seriously injured. (It’s a long story.) I remember sitting on my mother’s lap as the neighbors appeared. They found a pediatrician who would see us right away. They held the baby, washed the dishes, folded the laundry, and cooked dinner. No one called to offer sympathy; they showed up and took care of us.
When a friend is in need, look at their life and offer a particular service. Let your friend know that when you help them, you feel less helpless in the face of their hardship. Tell them it is an honor to be allowed to do something for them.
Here are some suggestions on helpful tasks to support a caregiver or an individual grieving the death of a loved one.
  • Offer the caregiver a couple hours of respite.
  • Do chores around the house: laundry, weeding and gardening, cleaning the house.
  • Make a healthy meal, or make several healthy meals that can be stored in the freezer. Prepare individual-sized meals, as opposed to large casseroles.
  • Babysit any young children in the family by taking them out of the house and for an outing to a local children’s museum, a park, or a ball game.
  • Run errands: grocery shopping, dry cleaning, returning books to the library.
And remember, hugs are wonderful, but they don’t fold diapers. 
By Mary Toren, RN
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