As I mentioned earlier, I had emergency abdominal surgery in March. We are blessed in so many ways, but some of our greatest gifts are our friends and family. I cannot tell you the number of hours people spent making food, taking care of kids, helping with the house and yard, and providing support and encouragement. It’s wonderful and humbling.
I also now have a ton of ideas for nice things to do for people who are in a similar situation – serious illness, surgery, new baby in the house, etc. I wanted to share 5 of the most awesome gifts we received during this period.
1. Meal Train
My friend Marissa set up a food schedule on Mealtrain.com. It’s a free service that really does a nice job of helping people coordinate meals for someone who needs them. The recipient can specify dates, drop-off times and instructions, allergies, and food preferences. Participants sign up for specific days and post what they’re bringing, which is helpful for planning other meals during the week.
We had some fantastic meals delivered – lots of variety and deliciousness. I have been posting the recipes for some of them, as they were so good that I wanted to make them again later. There are still several of these recipes on deck, so stay tuned. The best meals in our situation were ones that were oversized and easily freezable. The Hippie Family only has 4 people, but we had a lot of helpers. It was nice to have a meal big enough to share with the caregivers. And if there were no extra folks joining us, the leftovers from those big meals could be popped in the freezer for an easy meal in the future (I had to freeze the Cochinita Pibil to keep myself from chain-eating all of the leftovers). Before dropping off a ridiculously large platter of food, though, you should probably make sure that the recipient has a big enough freezer to keep the leftovers from going to waste.
2. Caring for the caregivers (and spawn)
I was completely useless in the domestic arena. I was pretty high-maintenance, to boot. Baby Hippie was still in diapers, and Little Hippie was young enough to be very sensitive to disruptions in routine. Our caregivershad their hands full, especially my husband, parents, and sister. Everyone needed a little TLC.
For the kids: A lot of people dropped off little presents for BH and LH. Usually, they were books or puzzles – nice, quiet activities to help keep them busy while not putting a strain on any of the caregivers. Several people offered to pick up one (or both) kids for some playtime. Our good friends took LH along on a family trip to the zoo. She had a blast, and lots of things got done around the house while the adult-kid ratio was so favorable. And dozens of people helped keep LH’s world centered and her spirits up during this mess: neighbors, teachers, parents of her classmates, and hospital staff.
For the grown-ups: The theme that stands out the most for me is coffee. When my dad was in the hospital last fall, the Hippie Husband visited our favorite coffeehouse and brought big carafes of coffee for the ICU waiting room. Everyone commented about what a great idea that was. A couple of my sister’s friends called to get coffee orders before coming to visit with us in the waiting room.
This spring, when I went into surgery, there was about a 30-minute window between “We’re still not sure what’s going on” and “Okay, it’s time to head to the operating suite.” Just enough time for my husband to give my dad a very quick rundown of the kids’ bedtime routine, then head for the hospital. My mom had been at the hospital with me since I had arrived 8 hours earlier. It was after 7 p.m., neither of them had eaten, and the cafeteria and coffee shops in the hospital were closed. My mother and husband were all by themselves in the huge lobby of the surgery wing, waiting for news from what turned out to be a several-hour procedure. Two of my mom’s friends arrived with coffee, providing blessed caffeine for both of the concerned waiting room occupants and a nice distraction for my mom. My godmother brought dinner for my dad and the kids that night (and many other nights). And tons of people dropped off food and pitched in at my parents’ house during the week I was in the hospital – this is where everyone assembled every night after busy days of taking care of my house, my kids, and me. Everyone had dinner there, and the kids had their baths before coming back to our house for bed.
Any time you can give a caregiver one less thing to worry about, take the opportunity. It makes a huge difference.
3. Concrete offers of help
I don’t doubt that people mean it when they say, “Let me know how I can help!” I always mean it when I say it or write it on someone’s Facebook wall. However, in a crisis, it’s tough to figure out what you need, and I have found that lots of people have trouble asking for help, even when it’s offered. This was definitely true for me. I felt like a wuss (or maybe just a drama queen) if I said, “Sure you can help – please bring dinner next Tuesday.” I mean, it’s not cancer. The whole world doesn’t need to revolve around my being sick for a few weeks.
The thing is, we *did* need some help. And it was a lot easier to accept it when the offer was very specific. Here are just a few examples of the great offers we received:
- “I love starting Meal Trains – just say the word!”
- “I have 2 toy rooms, an extra room for BH to nap if needed, a play set in the back yard, bikes, balls, bubbles, chalk, a membership to the zoo, and an almost 2 year old who would love some company during the day. Oh, and a big car that can fit 4 car seats in it!” This friend was offering to take one or both kids anytime, or to come over and play with them so that they could be on their home turf.
- “How about I make you some killer chicken broth?”
- “Can I plan a day to come clear out beds–garden related–and get things spring cleaned up for you?”
- “We would enjoy taking the kids to the Brookfield zoo on Sunday”
4. Fruit bouqet
A few days after I got home from the hospital, one of my mom’s friends sent us a fruit bouquet from Edible Arrangements. Hands down – this was Little Hippie’s favorite part of Mommy’s surgery. It was a sweet, healthy treat that lasted a surprisingly long time, considering the number of people who were eating it. The prepped fruit also made it easier for me to eat 6 mini meals while my intestines were getting back into the swing of things.
If you live near the person receiving the bouquet, you can make your own fruit bouquet with organic fruit at a significantly reduced price if you have more time than money.
5. Yard work (party)
Spring had sprung while I was in the hospital, and there were several weeks where I couldn’t push the lawn mower or do any digging around the yard. The Hippie Husband was awfully busy taking care of the kids, the house, me, and his full-time job. Lots of friends came over to help with weeding and getting our garden cleaned up and prepared for the planting season. At least 15 people lent a hand during March and April.
The most fun instance of having people help in the yard was when my friend Lisa asked a bunch of friends to join her. A huge crew assembled to attack the wild kingdom that had sprung up in my yeard. Seeing so many people assembled was a humbling reminder of how terrific my friends are. It was also a hoot – a couple of hours for us to chat while digging things.
Assistance like this isn’t limited to Springtime or the outdoors. You could also do a “party” for home maintenance tasks or window washing. During the winter months, shoveling would be an excellent thing to coordinate for a friend. Depending on the situation and your closeness to the individual, cleaning bathrooms, running a vacuum, or doing laundry would also be great gifts. They are also free, which is a nice bonus.
So there you have it. 5 terrific things people did for us while I was recovering from surgery. Feel free to steal any of these ideas for your friends and family. I’m sure they will appreciate these gestures as much as we did!