I’ve talked about it before, but about a year ago, S. was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) and after dozens of doctor’s appointments, hours spent online reading and discussing his options, he had open heart surgery and a pacemaker implanted mid-September at Johns Hopkins. I could go on and on about that experience, but the real memory is how our family and friends from near and far rallied to do whatever (and I do mean whatever) we needed while we were in the hospital (just over a week) and beyond.

If someone you know is dealing with an illness or might be spending time in the hospital you want to help right? Of course you do. But what CAN you do to help that requires little of the family but makes a big impact? Here are some suggestions from someone who has been there.

{Notes} Quite possibly the easiest (and cheapest of all). It’s important that the patient and their support team knows people are thinking about them and praying for them. As a caregiver I received countless Facebook and text messages from friends and even acquaintances. My favorite messages included funny memes. It showed that someone was thinking about us at a time that felt very lonely (I am 100% I was the youngest spouse on the cardiac ICU) and someone was taking time to find something they thought would make me laugh.

{Care Packages} Before S’s surgery we got two care packages, one from a long time friend with a bunch of fun goodies like headphones, slinkies and disguise glasses. The other package came from a friend who I met through my Momma and have yet to meet in person. She sent things to keep S and I entertained in the hospital and some fun stuff for Mike while we were away. This is just another great reminder that people were thinking about us and taking care of some of the things we might have forgotten (like pens and Post-It notes for the hospital).

{Services} Dealing with an illness for such a long time puts a lot of other things on the backburner like keeping the house clean. S’s Aunt offered to book a housecleaning service right before his surgery and it was amazing. We found a great company ThinkMaids who did an amazing job top to bottom. But services don’t always have to be done by someone else. My Aunt graciously went to Harris Teeter and picked up and delivered the groceries I ordered online. Helping out comes in many sizes and price ranges – find out what the family needs and jump in!

{Food} Food is probably the easiest thing to do to help families who are dealing with an illness. S.’s grandparents and coworkers sent a beautiful fruit basket which was SO nice, especially after eating cafeteria food for a week. His cousin reached out before and after about us ordering dinner from our favorite take-out place and letting them pay for it. If it’s one thing we have learned the past year it is to take people up on their offer to help, so we sent Debi our order and happily answered the door when our food came. Grubhub recently started selling e-gift cards making it easier for people to send takeout food without asking for the details. Just remember if you are helping out with food – it should be pre-made or easily made without much clean up. And keep it basic. Now is not the time to try a new Yugoslavian dish that was handed down for generations.

{Self care} While it was easy for me not to make S’s surgery ‘all about me’, it definitely was a challenge at time to remember to take care of myself. My dear friend Miranda was kind enough to send me a giftcard to my favorite spa, Swan Cove. I waited until we got home and settled for a few weeks then happily skipped to the spa for a much needed massage. Sometimes the family needs gentle reminders that they need to be taken care of too. Thankfully I have friends (and one of S’s nurses I will forever be grateful for) who reminded me.

We are so thankful for all our friends and family who made it a priority to think about us and reach out during the surgery and recovery.

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