A friend of mine has suddenly been thrust into the dark world of cancer. One day she goes in for tests, the next day she says she needs to start chemo ASAP. That beautiful, long, mane of hair that has forever been her trademark had to be cut. It made me sad to think of her trip to the salon and all the thoughts that might have been swirling in her head. I could identify with her, because I've always had long hair ever since I was in middle school and it too has always been my trademark.
She would be saying goodbye to her hair---a part of her that was there for all of the important memories in her life---the vacations, her wedding, the birth of her children, their graduations, etc. Although it's just hair, and hair does grow back, it was a part of her--a symbol of happy times and good things. Of course it isn't just about losing the hair... it's so much more, and the turmoil such an awful disease can bring on its innocent victims.
It wasn't long after I started thinking about all this when I saw, on Facebook, some pictures of my friend's new hair cut. She looked great! But what struck me more was her smile. Her smile reflected strength and someone who was being a good sport. I was so proud of her to see her be so brave and strong. I can only imagine what she might have been feeling inside. More than anything I want to be there for her and her family while they navigate through the rough waters that may lie ahead.
In the beginning, after something like this happens, everyone wants to get involved and be a part of the story in some way. It's what I love about people. Instincts are good. People have good intentions. They want to be supportive and show that they care.
After living through an unimaginable ordeal myself, I want to take all the good things that I learned and observed and pay it forward to the next person who is in need. There were some people who were absolute stand-outs and made each of my days and that of my family's a little easier than the day before. They are the people I want to emulate...
They are the people who have great instincts, AND act on them. They don't ask a lot of questions, they just do. These are the people who spearhead the calling trees, and organize the meal drop-offs for the families in-need. They wipe your tears, drive you to the hospital, and rub your back when you are praying to the porcelain goddess. They give the biggest and longest hugs. They were the people who reached out every day in some shape or form. It may have been as simple as a text: "Hi Honey, thinking of you. Hope your day is going better than yesterday. I’ll call you later." They know when it's okay to ask questions, and when it's better to just listen and be that shoulder to cry on. They know your pet needs to be walked and fed...they take care of it. They know your plants need to be watered. They take care of that too. They know that there are other members of the family that need attention and love as well; if not more...they reach out and give each of them that. They know that as time passes by and attention to the story wanes, people will start dropping off. The phone rings less, the mailbox is emptier. Yet, they are still there for you rain or shine. They continue to write you those notes that say how proud they are of you, and how much you mean to them. The phone continues to light up with bright thoughts in the middle of the night. These people are a rarity, and if you have someone like this in your life, cherish them.
There were so many other great people who stepped up and made such a difference in our lives, and for that we will forever be grateful. So many people brought meals, helped out with Jenelle, and lifted our spirits with cards and messages. It was never expected, but always appreciated.
One thing that I learned early on was that people truly want to help out and make a difference. I remember my brother telling me early on that people want to help out. He told me it was a time in my life I needed to be selfish and let people in. By letting them help me, I was actually helping them. People want to be useful, especially when others are suffering. It fuels their souls and makes people feel good about themselves.
Some of the things I really appreciated that people did for me and my family, and I in turn hope to do for others are the following:
- My friend Kim signed up with Lotsa Helping Hands and got our community involved with helping our family. Lots Helping Hands (there are others like it) is a website that allows people to sign up for meals and other designated needs (for example, in our case driving my daughter to and from school). It was such a gift to have people bring us meals and it allowed people a chance to poke in--even if for a few minutes--to say "hi" and after the hospital stay was over, a chance to see my husband.
- Gift cards to restaurants. This was such a treat and never expected. We really enjoyed getting out of the house and getting our minds off of our situation. This is always a great gift to give those who may be confined to their homes and would appreciate a special night out now and again.
- Gas cards. One of our dear friends gave us some gas cards, which really was a clever idea. I did so much driving to and from the hospital and it was at a time when gas was at an all time high. This is a wonderful gift, especially if you know someone who is going to be doing a lot of driving to hospitals, rehab, or infusion centers.(It's also a great gift to give college students!)
- Walking the dog or visiting with a pet: Often times it is the pets who take the back seat during tough times. I had some friends volunteer to walk Chico (even house him) during all of the madness. Often times I would join the friend just so I could get some fresh air.
- Walking with a friend: The gift of time is one of the gifts I cherished the most. Once a week for two hours I had it on my calendar that I would walk with someone; usually someone different each week. They knew walking would be good exercise and therapeutic for my mind. It really helped me get away from our situation and talk through all a lot of what I was going through.
- Cards and Notes: I loved it when we got cards--most addressed to my husband--from people who took the time to express their thoughts and good will. I put every card we got on the windowsill in the hospital so that he could look at them each day. It was a reminder of how many really cared. In this day and age of social media, it is so nice to get back to the old fashioned way of expressing thoughts. I plan to do this more often.
- House cleaning: A few of my friends surprised me and came in and cleaned my whole house. I cried when I first walked in the door, because it was so special. I've thought about this a lot since and I was thinking that gift certificates to house cleaning would be another great ideal to give some one, especially if privacy is a concern.
- Other thoughtful gifts: One of my friends gave me a gift card to get a facial. It was so sweet because she knew a little bit of pampering would go a long way, and she was right. I didn't get to spend a whole lot of time on myself, and the time I got during my facial felt like heaven.
- In this day and age of crazy-busy schedules,the thing that goes a long way is just poking in and letting someone know you care and that you are thinking of them. I still--even two years after our accident-- get people surprising me with emails or texts or phone calls letting us know that they are thinking of us and sending lots of love. Sometimes it's that simple. I've learned that taking a few moments each day to let someone know you care goes a long way.