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It is astounding just how different my life is now than it was just a few short months ago. At the time, people asked what they could do. They genuinely wanted to be helpful. I was so overwhelmed with grief, guilt and saddness, I could not answer those seemingly easy questions. I would blurt out random things on occasion and people seemed relieved to finally have a task/chore/something that they could do or provide to be helpful. Now with some time behind me, I am able to be a bit more rational about what could be done to help your friends and family members who find themselves in similar types of hell.
1. Reach out. Take the first step even if you haven't had contact in years or if your last contact was not as friendly as it should of been. None of that matters now, in this crisis. Petty arguments have long been forgotten. Call, text, email, send a card. Understand that your calls/emails, etc may not be immediately returned. That does not mean that they are not appreciated.
2. Add a dose of normal to her day. Talk about the mundane work or neighborhood stuff. Just 5 minutes of talking about something other than the all-consuming illness is a much deserved but rarely taken break.
3. Recognize the power of touch. Hug your friend, put an arm around their shoulder, hold a hand. I know that people shied away from this with me. I can usually be strong, but for some reason the mere touch of a concerned other would resort me to tears/sobbing. Sometimes it still does. That is ok. You didn't cause it. It rests just barely below the surface and you were considered to be safe enough to be witness to the meltdown.
4. Listen. Let her talk to you. Try to resist the urge to share other stories that you are aware of. Comparason stories are not always helpful. Sometimes they are anxiety-provoking.
5. Try not to smother/become the parent. Don't tell me to eat, sleep, relax, exercise. Sometimes I just cannot. Do show up with food that you know (or are pretty sure that) I like without having to make me think about it/choose something. At this point, I am incapable of making decisions about food. All of my brain-power/decision making is being used in the life/death conversations I am having with the doctors.
6. If you want to bring a gift, think about some practical things we may need for long hospital stays. Stuffed animals and balloons are not on top of the list. Pajamas, socks, hygiene supplies, magazines, decent pillows are much appreciated. At home, it is great to have a volunteer to drop off meals, mow the lawn, gather the mail, laundry, entertain other children.
And now, you can mention Cameron's name to me. Tell me a story, share a picture or a memory, let me know that you think of him too. Yes, I will cry. But one of my fears is that he will be forgotten so I want to hear that he is not forgotten, that he made an impact on your life. I certainly have not forgotten. Your mentioning of him will not remind me of something that I did not already have in the front of my mind.
Please add your own ideas.
Cameron (3-3-99 to 10-30-08)
+ 6 angels