If you know an individual or a family who is facing a life-changing crisis, take a look at these tips. Kristen’s husband Jeff became a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic following a diving accident in 2013.
Kristen has both the helpful and not-so-helpful things her family experienced in the early days of her husband’s injury in the hope that it may help others who find themselves in a similar situation.
Make meals: Families in crisis don’t have time to think about, let alone make meals.
Meal deliveries was one of the best things that people did for us while Jeff was in the hospital. I was usually either coming or going around dinner time in those early days, so for me, the best meals came in aluminum containers with covers so that I could either heat them up in the oven right then, or put them in the freezer for later.
Make a donation: Financial donations are immensely helpful to a family in crisis.
Oftentimes, jobs are lost (or at the very least, put on hold) when a life-changing injury occurs. Donations help alleviate some of the stress of lost wages. And they are especially helpful in the long run for things that insurance doesn’t cover like home modifications, adapted vehicles, and caregiver costs.
Cash sent in a card is also helpful. I never used to carry cash before Jeff’s injury. But once I was spending time in the hospital, eating at the cafeteria, buying items from the vending machine, and stopping by the coffee hut outside the hospital entrance, the cash we received in cards came in so very handy.
Gift cards: Jeff’s co-workers pitched in and got us a bunch of gift cards within three days of his injury.
Cards to restaurants and grocery stores were really useful. One member of my support group also suggests a gift card to the hospital cafeteria – great advice!
Be a Go-To Person: If you have the time and are willing to make the commitment, consider being a “go-to” or “get-it-done” person.
A “go-to” person often does things without being asked. An example of this was my sister-in-law Cathy who came to visit from out of state several times during Jeff’s hospitalization. She would run errands and pick up stuff for the house without me asking. These people tend to be very observant and have good intuition. Cathy would notice that I was running low on things like toilet paper and body wash, or that the cereal and milk needed replenishing. So she would stock up. Huge help.
Be the person to set up an online donation site and help coordinate an email blast or social media share to get the information out there.
“Set up an online meal sign up system, and help figure out the best way for people to drop meals off for the family in crisis. The less coordinating and communicating the family in crisis has to do, the better.”
Be a point person – someone that gets things done:
“I have a friend I text and ask her to find me a babysitter for such a date and she does the rest. Really helpful.”
Be a communication manager.
“Having someone intercept and disseminate information to friends and family, and handle the updates while we are dealing with everything at the hospital is very helpful. I spent so much time updating people individually and in groups and answering questions it caused me more trauma than the trauma I was actually dealing with!*Thanks to the ladies in my support group for providing these great suggestions.
Do little things: Sometimes the little things turn out to be the really meaningful things.
Send a card. If you’re far away and can’t offer physical help, just send a card.
I saved every single card and note we received following Jeff’s injury (and I’m not usually a card saver). They were great reminders that people were concerned about us.
Say something simple. I’m so sorry this happened. I’m thinking of you. We love you.
Now’s not the time to be long-winded – keeping it brief and heartfelt is best. And remember that it’s okay to admit that you don’t know what to say. Understand that there’s nothing you actually can say that will truly make things better. All you can do is support and show compassion – and that combination goes a long way.
Now that we’ve covered the Dos, here are some things that it might be best to avoid doing when your loved one is in crisis.
Don’t show up at the hospital unannounced
If you do, don’t be surprised if you can’t see the patient or talk to the spouse. Being in the hospital after a life-changing injury or diagnosis is chaotic. Jeff’s room was constantly filled with nurses, therapists, doctors, and case managers. And sometimes Jeff and I were in the middle of an emotional breakdown. Seeing visitors during these times just added to the feeling of being overwhelmed. Coordinating a time to come by for a brief visit worked so much better for us.
Don’t try to make things better with cliché phrases
Don’t say things like “This experience will make you a better person” or “Everything happens for a reason.” I just read a really great article on this topic. The author contends that phrases like these are “nothing more than platitudes cloaked as sophistication.” And he’s right. Because the last thing I wanted to hear was that there was some unknown but very good reason that my husband was now lying in a hospital bed paralyzed from the neck down.
Don’t tell me a story
Don’t tell me about your cousin’s roommate’s uncle who had almost the exact same injury a few years ago but who is fine now. I know you’re trying to be positive by sharing this information, but the reality is that most spinal cord injuries do not turn out “fine.” And sharing stories like this can unintentionally lead to false hope.
Don’t be afraid of me
I remember taking Evie to a birthday party in our neighborhood while Jeff was still in the hospital. Everyone there knew about the accident. A few people bravely approached me and asked about Jeff. Most people waved to me from afar or avoided me altogether. In situations like this, you have to suck it up and face the looming elephant in the room. Believe me, any discomfort you feel in asking me about my paralyzed husband is nothing next to the devastation I feel about it. Even if you don’t know what to say, a hug and a quick, “I’m thinking about you,” is better than pretending I’m not there.
I’ve put this one in its own category. Because it’s one of those that can go either way. I’ve read some articles where people going through crisis hate to hear it. And others say it is really helpful. So here it is:
“Let me know how I can help.”
Most of the time it’s said with sincerity (although, yes, sometimes it can be an empty parting phrase – I think it really depends on the relationship between the person who says it and the person in crisis). But I truly think that most people who say this are more than willing to help, they just don’t know what to do.
The problem here is that by saying “Let me know how I can help,” the action is put onto the person in crisis. The person who has a million things to think about in the next 5 minutes. The person who, very likely, doesn’t even know what he or she needs right now.
Perhaps a better way of phrasing this is by being more specific:
- Can I bring you dinner a couple nights this week?
- Can I take the kids on a play date tomorrow afternoon so you can have some time to get things done?
- Can I do your laundry?
This way, there’s only two options for the person in crisis: yes or no. (And don’t be offended by a “no” answer – it’s not personal.) Because it’s much easier and faster to answer a ‘yes or no’ question rather than an open-ended one. And your role as the friend/family member/helper is to make things easier for the person going through this crisis.
Life-changing injuries are something no one wants to experience or deal with. But the reality is that they do happen. And they’re difficult. For everyone involved.
Remember that support – be it large or small – really is the best thing you can offer someone going through a crisis. It helped us immensely.
Do you have tips that can help others who might be experiencing a life-changing event? Share them with us, and you could be featured on AbleThrive!