Imagine a client’s daughter was in a bad car accident and is now in the hospital for what looks to be an extended stay. You call your client and spend 20 minutes asking questions and listening as the client pours out the story. At the end of the call, you promise your continued contact and support.
Then what? How do you best fulfill that promise? In addition to regular calls to check in and provide a listening ear, here are three effective steps you can take:
- Create a hospital “care package." Most other supporters focus on the hospitalized person, overlooking the caretakers. Yet when family members visit a very ill loved one, they are often reluctant to leave the room even for a moment, and even if the patient is asleep. You can provide unique, needed support by creating a care package for the caretakers. Include bottles of water and juice, and snacks like protein bars, almonds, chips, pretzels, and chocolates. Add puzzle books like crosswords or Sudoku (along with mechanical pencils), and a couple of magazines or books for light reading. Get creative, perhaps including a small bottle of lotion and some mints or hard candies. When it’s all ready, call the hospital for instructions on how you can drop off the package to be delivered to the room or deliver it yourself when the family is there. Alternatively, text your client to get a convenient time to drop it off at their home.
- Instead of asking “What do you need?” or “What can I do?”, offer to do specific, named errands or work. Examples: Mow their lawn. Pick up dry cleaning or groceries. Arrange for house cleaning. Drive children to their activities. Wash and vacuum out the car. Make phone calls. After listing several options, add, "In other words, what’s on your to-do list that I can do for you? What can I take off your plate?" When you suggest specific actions like these, you indicate the range of what you’re willing to do so they don’t feel they’re imposing. You also create the option of choosing something else that reflects the same level of commitment.
- Plenty of people will bring cooked meals to the house. Join that list if you wish, yet it may be even better to think out of the box. Rather than bringing meals, concentrate on items that are less frequently offered (while remaining cognizant of the family’s preferences and allergies.) Consider bringing fresh foods like fruits and vegetables, pre-packaged salad kits, yogurt, cheese, sparkling water or other beverages, eggs, salsa, hummus, spinach dip, a good bread, etc. Also consider packaged goods that will keep for a long time if they aren’t consumed currently, such as peanut or almond butter, crackers or tortilla chips, nuts, packaged popcorn, oatmeal, or cereal. These items give families a range of foods for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Finally, consider providing non-food items that every family needs, such as toilet paper, tissues, paper towels, liquid soap or hand sanitizer.
Each of these steps offers concrete, tangible benefits for the family of a hospitalized loved one. They are also things that fewer people will do, making your contribution more notable. Use or modify these ideas to allow you to do the right thing for your client at a very difficult time.