This post is more daunting than when I shared that I peed all over myself. No joke. The people in my life who have helped, supported and held me through this tumultuous journey are numerous and their assistance vast. I don’t want to forget a single act of kindness and generosity. I want to memorialize their compassion and thoughtfulness and provide it in my very favorite list format if anyone else needs inspiration or guidance.
How to be a great supportive human
- Set up a schedule amongst friends to send a person a hand written note card so they receive a regular cadence of snail mail. My book club did this and I received notes from members I have never even met in person. Each card mattered to me and brightened my day.
- Provide gift certificates that matter. I received a year-long subscription to Audible for audio books, a Bookshop.org gift card, Door Dash and more. Those who know me are aware that I’m happy if I have food and a good book.
- Help out your friend with basic human daily tasks. We are all familiar with the drudgery of life and simple tasks become insurmountable obstacles when you are sick. Empty the dishwasher, throw in a load of laundry, show up with groceries, run the vacuum, walk the dog, wipe down the counters or change the bed sheets. If this person has invited you into their home, help them in home-specific ways.
- Outsource your assistance. Pay for house cleaners to come. Pay for groceries to be delivered. Send fresh, ready-cut, ready-to-eat, whole food that requires little to no assembly or cooking.
- Appointments and errands. I couldn’t drive for several months after transplant and was chauffeured to all my many appointments. As I needed assistance with a wheel chair, this was crucial to have help. But more than doctor appointments, there have been hundreds of errand runs to the pharmacy for my 10,385 medications. My Venmo transactions to pay people back are getting more and more inventive with my emoji usage.
- Check in. I don’t care if it’s text message, Instagram, phone call, Marco Polo, Facebook or any other platform — letting a person know you are in their thoughts is a wonderful gift. I’m also a fan of the “no need to message back but wanted you to know I’m thinking about you.” That message absolves the recipient of feeling they have to respond which was critical when I was in the hospital.
- Visit the hospital and always bring food. If you are one of the inner circle who is visiting the hospital, show up with food and sustenance. Skip the balloons and flowers (in my humble opinion) or anything that gives the patient more to carry home with them when they are discharged. But always ask if a particular food sounds good. There is a middle eastern restaurant in Cleveland that has vegetable soup — multiple visitors stopped to pick some up on their way to see me. Smoothies were another frequent gift. Something so small was the only nutrition I consumed on the really bad days. No matter the hospital, outside food is better than what gets delivered to your room.
- The Calm or Headspace meditation app. My sweet friend gave me a year long subscription to the Calm app. Trust me when I tell you, that when you are in your head and need help with managing pain and accepting your suffering, a guided meditation or bedtime story is a true gift.
- The great box of travel goodies. A friend of mine is a fellow world traveler and understanding that I was bound to the great state of Ohio, and had been for some time, compiled an international treasure chest. Each item included was procured from her world travels with a note detailing how the items would help my health and healing. It is hands down, the greatest care package I have ever received.
- The gift of music. I went to theatre school and have a BFA in performance so the fact that I have friends who just happen to be Broadway stars and just happen to have released their own album is not too shocking. One such friend recorded personal videos to me — the first of him singing Titanium and the second Bridge Over Troubled Waters. I listened to them on repeat. Music is balm for the soul.
- Pajamas, all day every day. My aunt and cousins sent me several pairs of luxurious wonderful pajamas in advance of my hospital stay. Normally a t-shirt and mismatched Amazon sweatpants kind of gal, these feel like pure luxury. As my skin was incredibly sensitive and dry after chemo, luxury sleepwear was heaven.
- Don’t be afraid of the dark; in fact climb in and join the mess. I had some dark days and rather than trying to cheer me up I appreciated the friends and family who acknowledged the suck. Most people will never be forced to endure what I have in the past six months and it’s incredibly liberating to hear someone validate my thoughts and experience. Say, “this is truly awful” or “I’m here if you just want to scream or cry.” Being specific can be an alternative to the oft used and overly stated, “I’m sorry.”
There were days in the hospital when sitting up in bed was the most I could manage and days at home recovering where walking to the bathroom was my cardio. Don’t ask the sick or recovering friend how to help, tell them your three ideas and let them choose.
I am sure I’m missing a few and will update this list accordingly. I do hope the items above inspire you to provide specific assistance and be proactive. I’m incredibly grateful to my village and feel so lucky to have been so expertly cared for.