Friday, January 25, 2013

How to offer practical help to a friend in crisis

In my previous post, I talked about how to make the best use of your time and energy while waiting with a loved one during medical visits and procedures.

In this post I want to talk about how to provide practical help to friends and family members dealing with any kind of crisis. Maybe they are having surgery, or their child is in the hospital. Maybe they've just lost a loved one. Or their job. It's so hard to know what to do when someone you love is hurting.

Having been on the giving and receiving end of practical help, here are my thoughts on how to best provide practical help, comfort, and support when a friend or family member is going through a difficult time.
  • Don't ask, "How can I help?" By the same token, don't say, "Call me if you need anything." Because guess what? We won't. We're pretty overwhelmed. Half the time we don't know what we need until we're staring into an empty refrigerator or an overwhelming pile of laundry. Then trying to remember who offered to help, if they really meant it, and would they really be willing to tackle your sink of dirty dishes... well that's more than our emotionally over-taxed brains can handle.
  • Instead offer specific help that you are willing to do. Offer to pick up their laundry and do it with yours. Or do it at their house if you have the time. Offer to clean bathrooms, mop floors, run the dishwasher, cook up several meals for the freezer, run to the grocery store, pick up kids from school, shovel their driveway and walks, mow the lawn.
  • Realize that many times when you offer to help we'll say we're okay or that we're managing because it's hard to admit we need help, let alone ask for it. Feel free to offer specific help several times. One of the best things my friends did for me (twice!) was to make several weeks' worth of meals in single portions and stocked my freezer with them. A group got together to do it so they could socialize and have fun while they were doing a huge favor for me!
  • Think about all the things you have to do in your day and how each of them would be impacted by a family crisis. What things would you need help with? Go offer to do that for your friend. It's amazing doing something simple like running the dishwasher, wiping down the bathrooms, or throwing in a load of wash can lighten the load of someone who is already emotionally drained when they come home.
  • Call ahead before visiting. Patients either at home or in the hospital don't always feel up to visitors. They don't look their best (which can be embarrassing to some people), they are in pain, tired, or scheduled for tests or therapies. Make sure your visit is a blessing, not a burden.
  • When you do visit, be ready to leave if it's not a good time. Don't expect to be entertained or for the patient to carry on a long conversation. Some people will love the company and be happy for the distraction. Others would prefer a short visit. Be sensitive to that.
  • Do send cards, notes, Facebook messages. Even if they don't get acknowledged, people really are encouraged when they know others are thinking of and praying for them.
  • Some of the most welcome gifts we got were blankets, stuffed animals, mylar balloon, socks, fun nail polish and stickers, head bands and hair ties, magazines, puzzle books, posters (for long term hospital stays), card and travel board games, lip balm, lotion, and favorite snacks.
  • Don't forget the caregiver. Taking them out for a quick bite to eat or a cup of coffee can do wonders for their spirits. Or giving them time to go home for a shower or a nap while you stay with the patient can also be another great break.
  • Mostly, the Golden Rule is a good guide. Do for your friend what you would want done for you if you were in their situation.


Friday, January 18, 2013

What to do when waiting at a hospital or other medical facility

This past year has been a medically difficult one for our family. All told we've had five surgeries, a very long (one month and counting) hospital stay, and countless hours of physical therapy.

All this adds up to a lot of waiting if you're the one accompanying the patient. Here are a few of my tips to make your time a little more comfortable, if not exactly productive.

My good friend, Diana Brandmeyer has some tips over on her blog too.

Here are some things to consider bringing along.
  • A sweater or a hoodie. You never know what the inside weather will be like :)
  • Something to occupy your time: a book, magazine, Kindle, Nook, iPad, laptop, knitting/crocheting, etc. Don't bring something that takes up a lot of space or takes a lot of time to set up or put away (i.e. jigsaw puzzles). Bring something that you don't mind being interrupted in doing.
  • Do put together a tote bag or backpack if you're going to be doing this frequently. That way you don't have to stress out your already stressed-out brain cells trying to remember everything each trip.
  • In your tote bag put in a notebook, your calendar/day planner, note cards, bills, or anything else that could be helpful in making you feel productive. Write that note you've been putting off to your grandma or friend that isn't on Facebook.
  • Use a page in your notebook to list specific things you need help with (return library books, a grocery list, find a ride home from school for your son). That way when someone offers to help you can bring out your list.
  • Along those same lines, take help when it is offered. It's hard to admit we need help, even harder to ask for it. But if people are offering, take them up on it. You need it!
  • Bring something to drink. Water, your favorite soda, coffee, tea, whatever. 
  • Get a portable snack, a healthy one if you can, like nuts, fruit, cut up veggies, fruit leather, your favorite nut, fruit, cereal or protein bars. Even a baggie of dry cereal can be helpful. Some places have vending machines for snacks or drinks but if you are doing this a lot, that can be expensive and not very healthy. Some places 
  • Your Bible, a Bible study or devotional, a notebook or note cards for journaling and verses. I've spend more time working on my Bible study at my daughter's hospital bedside and journaling what God has been revealing to me than I had since I'd had my surgery on my ankle. I take great comfort from God's Word during difficult times.
  • Get to know the staff. They see people at their worst, in pain, tired, grumpy, and grouchy. Anything you can do to be kind to them, to smile, to thank them, goes a long way.
  • Also ask the staff about the availability of nearby microwaves, coffee shops, sandwich shops, etc. They often know the best places around and can point you to them faster than you could find them on your own.
Next week, I'll post my tips on how to help someone who is going through a crisis because they have a loved one in the hospital or going through an illness.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Mom. Still the best title

Sitting next to your daughter's hospital bed will give you some time to think. My daughter is fifteen, but she still wants her mom with her. So I spend as much time as my job, and my needs to be with my son, allow. And while I'm sitting next to her, holding her hand, encouraging her through the pain of physical therapy, comforting her, letting her beat me at mancala, I'm struck by how much she just needs me to be mom.

Much of my time is consumed by being the provider for my kids, putting a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, and food on the table. I spend hours each day making sure everything at work is functioning properly so books and Bibles get published on time. Much of what I have wanted to accomplish with my life and my time has had to be set aside for the time being. And I was reminded of the importance of this when I ran across this quote by GK Chesterton. Just ignore the references to British government.

To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors, and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, cakes, and books; to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone and narrow to be everything to someone? No, a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.
(What’s Wrong with the World, quoted in Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge, Nelson Books)

The last two lines are my favorite because, especially when my children were small, I was everything to them. I am still their world, and the import of that can be staggering. I am continually grateful that I was able to stay at home with them when they were small. And now that they are older, they still need me greatly. Though instead of wiping noses and tying shoes, I'm helping with homework and making sure chores are done. And sitting by my daughter's hospital bed while she learns to walk again.

I have many titles: wage earner, managing editor, small group member, friend. But the one that means the most is simply mom.


Thursday, January 03, 2013

Gluten-free Tiramisu Birthday Cake

My sweet girl was turning 15 (how did that happen?!) and requested tiramisu for her birthday cake. She has pretty sophisticated tastes for a kid and since her latest juvenile arthritis flare up has her confined to a wheelchair, I was inclined to do what I could to grant her request.

The bad thing about being gluten free is that you can't just go pick up something at the store. The good thing is that with a little work, you can make just about anything gluten free, and if you do it right, no one can tell the difference.

The first thing I do when looking for a new gluten-free recipe is to see what I've pinned on Pinterest. And then I Google. I don't know what people did before Google. It might be my best friend. I had several gluten-free tiramisu recipes open on my screen and I was looking through all of them. I didn't want to find gluten-free lady fingers, so I needed a sponge recipe. And I didn't want to use half a dozen different kind of flours.

So as usual, I ended up combining a couple of recipes and making it my own.

I started here with the recipe for the sponge cake. I made the cakes and while they were cooking I started on the filling. For that I used this recipe.

I made the zabaglione while the cakes were cooking. Egg yokes, marsala wine, and sugar cooked over a double boiler. Talk about rich! Resist the urge to taste it, though. It's hot! Ask me how I know.

Since it was getting on to be about 10 o'clock at night and the zabaglione needed to cool, as well as the cakes, I put the zabaglione in the fridge and the cakes in the microwave. I didn't turn the microwave on, it just seemed like a good place to store the cakes without the cats helping themselves to a snack in the middle of the night. Don't laugh. They like cornbread too!

The next morning I finished up the recipe by making whipped cream, adding mascarpone to it, then adding the zabaglione mixture. I decided not to add more marsala to the espresso syrup since I was serving this to teens and didn't like the idea of serving food with alcohol in it that hadn't cooked off.

I soaked the layers in the espresso syrup, plopped on the rich and creamy zabaglione/whipped cream/mascarpone mixture and frosted the whole thing with it.

Then I cut out a heart shape from wax paper and put it on the top layer. Using a fine-meshed strainer, I sprinkled cocoa powder over the whole thing. Carefully, I lifted off the heart.

Being that I live in Michigan and this was December, my car often doubles as my refrigerator. So off the finished cake went into the car until party time. I know, I don't have a proper cake plate. I did at one time. Long story.

The tiramisu tasted amazing! The birthday girl was happy, and the cake actually held together for a few days until it was all eaten up.