Last summer was the summer of hospitalizations. Prior to that, no one in my family had been hospitalized except the two times I gave birth and had to stay overnight. Last summer though, not only did I give birth to my son Caleb, but he also had a week-long NICU stay and three subsequent hospitalizations for several days each in less than three months. To say we were overwhelmed is an understatement.
In that state of shock, which began in the NICU, we hesitantly (gasp!) asked for help. I am not sure what it is that made us feel ashamed in asking for help when we clearly needed it- perhaps we all want to seem like we are in control (though nothing could be farther from the truth) or perhaps we were afraid it was a sign of weakness. Lucky for us, family and friends stepped in to help when we sent out the SOS call.
We have no family in town, but are lucky they are only a few hours away. We are blessed to have a tremendous support system of friends, neighbors, co-workers and church members. Without them, our distress signal would have gone unnoticed and surely we would have drowned. One well placed call, text, Facebook post, or email generated offers of help.
Help was organized for us by a few friends using a free website carecalendar.org. We had used it previously for my second child’s birth and it proved useful, allowing friends to sign up online to bring meals, help with childcare, and do other errands. It allowed us one central location to provide basic information such as food preferences, allergies, days and times for meal delivery, contact information, and directions. It also helped avoid duplication of meals (one can only eat so many chicken pot pies) and sent email reminders to those who signed up to help.
Meals were immensely helpful as learning to take care of Caleb’s medical needs, constant medical appointments, and having a newborn took up a lot of time. It was exhausting. Those who were not cooks often paid for pizza to be delivered, sent gift cards for fast food restaurants, or dropped off groceries like water, juice, soda, desserts, fruit, and snacks. When Caleb was hospitalized, friends stopped by with food for us as no one should have to survive on cafeteria food alone. I do not remember cooking dinner that summer.
Many people wanted to help but did not know how and often I did not know what to tell them when they asked how they could help. We had several friends take it upon themselves to help us, however they could. Treats for the new big sisters would arrive, diapers for the baby would be on the doorstep, magazines and books to pass the time, fancy bottles of hand sanitizer, and gas cards. Eventually, we learned what was helpful and doable for us- a lot depends on what you are comfortable with and we learned to become more comfortable with letting people in to help us. Laundry was sorted and folded, the lawn was mowed, and errands were run all with help. Friends came to hold the baby while I got some rest or took a shower. They watched the children so my husband and I could escape for a much needed date night or to celebrate our anniversary. Church friends fought over who would hold Caleb during the service so I could focus on the message and renew my spirit. Neighbors were on-call and stepped in during the middle of the night runs to the ER or when I needed an extra set of hands to change a colostomy bag on a squirmy baby.
Above all, the help that mattered the most, that we valued the most, that we will not forget, is the support. All the prayers, well-wishes, positive energy sent our way, juju, encouraging comments, vigils, inspirational quotes, sweet notes, and times people just loved on us, listened to us, cried with us, held our hand, and stood there with us ready to tackle whatever came our way. That is priceless. That is what got us through to today. That is what has given me hope that together we can get through whatever lies ahead.
So send out that SOS. Sound the alarm. Flash the bat-signal across the night sky. Do not be afraid, ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help when you need it. Help can come in a variety of forms and it is appreciated, though the thank you note may be months late.