One beautiful and unseasonably warm fall day many years ago my husband and I found ourselves devastated and in shock when our then two year old daughter, Bethany was very unexpectedly diagnosed with a Pylocytic Astrocytoma - a brain tumor which was roughly the size of a baseball. One minute Bethany was getting a CT scan of her brain and the next minute we were in an ambulance being rushed to a larger hospital two hours away from home where doctors were preparing to perform brain surgery on our dying little girl!

Neither my husband nor I had any time to react or adjust to the shock of what was about to become the most devastating and life changing event our family would ever experience. We literally could not think straight! Have you ever had a friend, family member, or acquaintance go through a loved one’s serious health crisis similar to what I’ve just described above? I must confess that before our experience with Bethany’s health crisis, I was at times guilty of avoiding people who were going through such devastating experiences. Not because I didn’t care, but rather because I didn’t know what to say to them or how to help them. Whatever our reasons may be for avoiding contacting or offering help to families experiencing devastating crises, I know from the very painful and personal experience that our avoidance or lack of acknowledgment of the situation will be negatively interpreted by those going through the crisis. They will feel ignored, unloved, and uncared for. I would like to offer you five ways to assist others going through a medical crisis so that you will feel equipped to effectively respond to the situation with compassion and confidence.

1. Pray with the family. Do not just tell them that you will be praying for them. Please stop what you are doing and take just a few minutes out of your busy life to actually pray with the family in real time! If you can’t be with the family in person then do so on skype, on the phone, or even through Facebook messages! Trust me, I know the family will appreciate this not so small gesture!

2. Listen to the family. Be slow to voice your own opinions about the situation. Family members may need to process the devastating situation through talking. What they have to say may seem to be very negative, full of anger, or even faithless. Do not judge them, reprimand them, or try to hush them up. Just listen to them with compassionate support while quietly acknowledging and validating their feelings. Please never offer platitudes such as: “God never gives us more than we can handle”, or “God must believe that you are a very special family to trust you to go through this very special situation!” And most assuredly never allude that the crisis might be a punishment from God! Statements like these are actually very hurtful and harmful.

3. Ask the family what they need for an extended hospital stay. If possible visit the family and personally assess the situation yourself. The family may be in such a state of shock that they don’t even know what they need. Some possible items the family might need would be: clean and extra clothes, tooth brushes and other toiletries, snacks, their electronic gadgets, their sacred texts, books, DVD’s, phone cards, gift cards, gas cards etc… Most importantly, I also urge you to go home and organize a fundraiser or two. This family is going to need cold, hard cash!

Bethany book fundraiser
Bethany book fundraiser

4. Visit the family in the hospital. They desperately need to know that they have not been forgotten. Offer to sit with the ill family member so the parents or caretakers can take a shower or a much needed break. I absolutely refused to leave my daughter’s bedside when she was sick unless someone else stayed with her while I was gone. And don’t forget to pray with the family while you’re there!!

5. Pay attention to and help care for the siblings or other family members who have been left behind at home. Kids left behind may be feeling abandoned by emotionally and physically exhausted parents. They may be feeling guilty because they’re glad that they aren’t the sick one. They may be frightened that their sick sibling or family member is going to die. Spend some time with the kids left behind. Take them into your own home if needed. Assure them that what they are feeling is normal. Offer to bring them to the hospital for a visit. Take them out to a movie or treat them to an ice cream cone. Just show them some good old fashioned TLC so that they will not feel neglected or forgotten about! They need to feel that someone cares about them and their needs too!

I am sure there are so many more practical ways to help families in need, but it is my great hope that these five little suggestions will equip you with confidence and embolden you to take swift and loving action when faced with a friend, relative or acquaintance going through a medical crisis.

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