1. Prayer and Good Thoughts. For our family, the most important thing that anyone did for us was pray and send healing thoughts. If you are a praying individual, you can find out specific prayer needs as they will be changing from day to day. Pray for all of the family members, not just the patient. Hunter's illness has inspired so many people to pray who weren't really spiritual or believing to begin with. It's been humbling to see God work through him to inspire faith in people I love.
2. Organize prayer chain, prayer meetings, etc. A dear friend at my church set up a prayer chain schedule for the day of the bone marrow transplant. There were people from her small group praying around the clock that day. The schedule was set up in 1 hour increments. People were setting their alarms to get up and pray.
3. Send useful gifts. The sick child will be receiving a great deal of gifts. If you want to make sure that your gift is not a repeat or that it is something needed, wanted or useful, just ask. Or perhaps you can ask the family for a list. An online wish list is helpful too. Or perhaps a registry at a place like Target could be helpful.
4. Bring meals. I honestly don't know what I would have done without friends bringing food throughout Hunter's initial hospital stay. I was in such a state of grief and shock that I didn't have the wits about to me actually prepare meals. A friend set up a Take Them a Meal schedule right away after his diagnosis. This ran for several weeks and helped get me through the worst part of his illness. My friends were generous about working around our weird dietary needs and went out of their way to be accommodating. Hunter, having a suppressed immune system, had special dietary needs too. It might be a good idea to check with the family to see if the patient has special needs as well before planning your food contribution.
5. Stock their freezer. One of the most amazing things that anyone did for us while Hunter was undergoing his treatment was that they stocked my freezer. A friend from church organized a schedule and provided freezer space at our church specifically for our family. A church family member who lives near us would occasionally deliver the items.
6. Organize a meal making party. The previously mentioned church friends also hosted a cooking party for my family. They spent an entire evening cooking for us (they even took recipe requests) and we ate from these meals for about three months. It was so helpful after Hunter came home and we had to make trips to the clinic two times a week.
7. Volunteer to organize a meal schedule. If you have great organizational skills and a little free time, you could be of incredible help to a family with a sick child. Use a website like Take them a Meal and create a schedule for meals to be delivered to the family. Talk to the mom or dad in the family and have them give you the details of any special dietary needs, requests, etc. I know that when we were dealing with being in and out of the hospital and our lives were complete and total chaos, I didn't have the time to be talking to a lot of different people about anything, much less food. I had one friend take care of organizing the first two months and then another friend took care of the the meals and schedules afterward. It was so nice to only have to communicate with them instead of each individual who was interested in helping us with a meal.
8. Organize a fund raiser. Fund raisers are really helpful when a family is in crisis but it's next to impossible for the family members to organize one. We were fortunate enough to have a pancake breakfast hosted in our honor. The proceeds came to our family at a time when we really needed the help.
9. Attend or donate to a fund raiser. Should someone host a fund raiser in honor of the family of a sick child, they will need people to attend and donate to their cause in order to make it a success. This is a great way for you to help. Your donation or participation may seem small but it's absolutely not.
10. Raise funds in their honor. One of my good friends decided to run a race and ask for donations for our family as her "sponsorship". It worked out nicely and she was able to raise a chunk of money with which she purchased a gift card to a local grocery store.
11. Keep your church/circle of friends informed. I always appreciated it when my friends copied and pasted what I had written about Hunter on Facebook into their own Facebook updates. Knowing that I was not the only person making sure that everyone was informed was such a huge relief to me.
12. Run a Facebook page or Caring Bridge site or blog. If you see that the family is struggling with sharing their story online, offer to do it for them. It may not be that they aren't interested in using the internet for spreading the word, they may simply not know how or they might not have time. Offering to take something like this off their plates might be just the time and sanity saver they were praying for.
13. Gifts for the siblings. If the sick child has any brothers or sisters, remember them when you send or deliver a gift. They are having a hard time too and they could really use the attention.
14. Take siblings for a special date/outing. One of the sweetest things that anyone did for us during our time of need was take my daughter out for coffee. My dear friend came by one morning, picked up Ronin and took her to Starbucks for a little girl time. Just the two of them. This was such a HUGE blessing to my daughter as she'd been suffering in silence and desperately needed some attention and some time away from the house.
15. Sponsor a special day for the entire family. Our family so rarely got to be together or go out into public during our journey that I imagine a special day or evening out would have been really nice. Once we were back together, we couldn't afford to do much of anything special. Perhaps a movie and dinner certificates might be nice? Or passes for an outside activity like mini-golf so that the sick child doesn't have to be indoors around other people.
16. Reach out to the mom. Even if I didn't respond, every note, every comment, every phone call, every visit meant so much to me while Hunter was sick. I felt so lonely and my friends were so important to me. My friend Sherry came over and spent the day/evening with me and Ronin one day right after we got the diagnosis. Just having her in the room with me was such a comfort. I felt a little less alone.
17. Listen to mom/be a sounding board. When you are reaching out to mom, offer to listen to her. Volunteer to be her sounding board, a shoulder to cry on. I so desperately wanted someone to whom I could talk on a daily basis. I had a chance to go out and talk with friends occasionally but most days I felt really alone.
18. Contact favorite celebrities. One of Hunter's fans on Facebook took the liberty to send handwritten notes to some celebrities on his behalf. We have since received autographs from Mark Hammel, William Shatner, Tim Allen, Carrie Fischer... and a few other friends got some autographs for us as well. What a creative way to cheer up a sick kid.
19. Get the media involved. Newspapers and television news can be a great resource for attracting a attention to a story. They like human interest stories. For us, the media exposure was great because it helped us promote our business and it also helped us in collecting Lego sets for Hunter's long stay in the hospital.
20. Send a card or letter. Hearing from people all over the country (and occasionally from a different country) was very exciting for Hunter. But getting a card from someone right here at home was just as nice. Hunter received countless cards and we have saved each and every one of them. Some hospitals have the option of allowing you to email a greeting directly to a patient which they will print and hand deliver to the patient's room. This is an economical and fun way to let your friends know that you are thinking about them. Check to see if the hospital at which your friend is receiving treatment offers this option.
21. Volunteer to clean. Cleaning became a huge burden to me when Hunter was sick. For one thing, I had two other kids for whom I must care, alone, day in and day out. On top of this challenge, I was exhausted. Needless to say, I didn't sleep well and I spent a lot of my time (at least at first) breaking down into sobs. I was a mess. I had no energy left for things like cooking and cleaning. Add the burden of having a sick kid who would be coming home to a potentially "hazardous" house and what I desperately needed was help making my home germ free. A good friend of mine wrangled up a troupe of folks to come by and disinfect every square inch of my home. We were tackling germs and mold, two things that could be deadly to my sick son. Together we did an amazing job and it was a HUGE blessing for me. A few months later another friend donated a cleaning service to me so a couple of nice ladies came and cleaned my home top to bottom. They even used the nontoxic cleaners with which I provided them. Both of these gestures were two of the most helpful things that were done for us during our journey.
22. Lawn work. When you have a sick child, the last thing you need to be dealing with is lawn work. My husband takes care of all of the lawn work here at our house and I remember him stressing out about when he was going to be able to come home from the hospital long enough to mow and use the weed eater. Luckily a sweet family offered to help us out with our lawn. One evening our friend came over and mowed the entire lawn and took care of the weeds as well. It was a huge blessing and took a lot of stress off of my husband which I really appreciated.
23. Follow through with promises. We had a lot of people promise a lot of things that never came through. Things come up and that is totally understandable. (I had to back out of a commitment just this week due to too many other commitments in my life. I get it.) It's important, however, to let it be known that you aren't going to be able to come through with your promise. No one will hold it against you. It's just that if you don't let the family know, they may be waiting on the gift you said you would send or the money you said was on the way. Sometimes it's hard to know whether to go ahead and get that special video game or Lego set for the patient when you aren't sure if it's coming from another source. Just let the family know if you can't do what you said you were going to do. It's no big deal.
24. Adopt the family at Christmas. Between not being about to go into public for shopping and financial strains, shopping for Christmas was really difficult when Hunter was sick. I appreciated that several people donated items to my children so that once we finally had our family Christmas, there was more than plenty for them under the tree.
25. Donate your tithe. I had a friend tell me that they were going to donate their tithe to us until "this whole thing is over with". I remember thinking what a great idea that was. Maybe you'll think it's a good idea too.
26. Find creative ways to "visit" with a child in the hospital. Thanks to technology there are now so many ways to visit with a sick person in the hospital. We were so fortunate to be able to take our computer and web cam to the Children's hospital so that Hunter and his dad could use Skype to visit with me, his siblings, and even his grandparents, his aunt, his cousin, and occasionally a friend. He even got to visit with a few of my online/blogging friends. If you don't have a way to chat face to face via the internet, maybe you could make the sick child a video greeting and then upload it to youtube. We love making videos and posting them online. It's tons of fun, and really easy with a flip video camera.
27. Research about resources for the parents. I know that when Hunter was first diagnosed, I was so miserably tired and stressed out that I couldn't for the life of me research what resources were available to me. Occasionally a friend would send me information that was of value and I really appreciated it because I was in no place to do that kind of research on my own. Find out the needs of your friends and then start looking for help. There are people and organizations out there offering help... there is help through the government (and there is no shame in taking it, especially during a time of crisis). Ask your friend what kind of help they need and start contacting some places for them. Create a list of resources for your friend.
28. Donate your skills. Think about your talents or skills and then figure out some way that you can use them in order to help out the family in need. Maybe you are a great organizer/event planner: hold a fund raiser. Perhaps you make a product: donate a portion of your proceeds to this family. You're a great cook? Make them a freezer meal.
29. Sponsor a night/day out for the parents. Marriage is hard. Marriage is really hard when you have a few kids. Marriage is nearly impossible when you have a sick child. Everyone is stressed out. There is no time for connecting. When you do get to connect, you are dealing with such heavy stuff that you can no longer have fun. It's not pretty. One thing that I have thought for over a year is how much I would LOVE to have a special night or day out with my man. But even if we had childcare, where would we get the money to pay for a date? A great way to help out a family with a sick child is to help pamper the parents. Their marriage is important and someone needs to be looking out for it because I doubt they are right now!
30. Offer to run errands. Parents of a sick child have errands still. The only trouble is that there is NO way that the errands are going to get done. Offer to do their shopping. Pick up their laundry and drop it back off washed and folded. Pick up and return library books. These are helpful things that will allow the family to focus on what is truly important in the moment.
31. Volunteer to stay with the child or to keep the other children during hospital stays. Maybe mom or dad needs to leave the hospital for a few hours or over night so that they can go to an important meeting (there are a lot of those when you are applying for food stamps and social security and disability... trust me) or they just need to take a shower and get a breath of fresh air. It was so helpful when someone other than my husband or I could stay with Hunter for just a little while. It was also helpful when someone would offer to take my other two children so that I could be at the hospital too or so that I could just breathe. It didn't happen very often and I appreciated all of the help that I got.
32. Speak up and let them know that you care. I always noticed when I heard from someone... be it by phone, card, email, facebook comment. I also noticed when I didn't hear from people. And it hurt. So even if you don't feel connected to the situation but someone you know and care about is going through a difficult time, let them know that you noticed, that you care, and that you are thinking about them.
33. Bring your kids/their friends to visit. It meant the world to Hunter every time he got to see one of his friends while he was sick. He often didn't feel like playing but every time he got to spend a little time with a friend, we could a change in his spirits. He would ask to see certain friends and they never followed through with showing up for him and that hurt him, a lot. Remember that just because a kid is sick doesn't mean that they no longer have social and emotional needs. If there is window of opportunity where it's safe for them to be around other children (if they have a compromised immune system) and they would like to see you or your children, make yourself available. It could change a life.