One late September afternoon, just over a year ago, I sank onto a patio chair next to my oldest son, Erik, and allowed the dragging fatigue of the past five hours to drain from my shoulders. We had accomplished the near impossible by clearing out my first floor office to make space for the hospital equipment soon to be delivered.
Sixteen friends and family members had given up their Sunday afternoon plans at a moment’s notice to help me dismantle, clean, lug boxes and office supplies up the stairs, and then reassemble, set up, and effectively establish a corner of the second story guest room as my temporary work area. Because, you see, after eleven days of his final hospitalization, my husband of 38 years would return home by special transport.
“You and Dad have taken the time to cultivate friendships that matter,” Erik said quietly. “People who would drop everything because you needed them. That’s pretty amazing, and something I don’t have in my life.”
I turned my head and watched him for a minute, those earnest blue eyes of his a little sad. And realized the truth of his words, at least the part about my life. Had I ever thought of it quite like that before?
Reflecting on Erik’s words, I could see that it does take an investment of time—and effort, and commitment—to build the kind of friendships that would prompt people to respond at the end of a church service to an emergency text requesting help. Besides my amazing two sons and granddaughter—and two special young people who we have adopted into our family—most of those who responded were from our Tuesday night Bible study group, whose core has been together for more years than I remember.
But here’s the thing: That was huge, but it wasn’t the only way the people God put into our lives helped me when I needed it most. The ladies from my dear and longstanding writers’ critique group, couples we had camped with, became close friends with, other couples we had known and loved for years, pitched in and lifted the burden from my shoulders during the worst time of my life. I learned the true meaning of sacrificial love.
Below are some of the ways they helped me. Maybe you can see a way to help someone you know, to invest in their lives.
- Pray earnestly, either from home or in person. I am convinced that my faithful, praying friends and family made it possible for me to allow Jesus to carry me through those dark days.
- If you are a member of the immediate family, stay available for whatever comes up. Erik stopped by every single day before and after work, often working from my house the entire day. My other two children spent as much time as possible, and all of them, along with my granddaughter, took shifts staying with my husband 24/7 during his last days.
- Bring meals, or in my case, soup, because that was the only thing I could get down at the time. Bring enough to eat along with the caregiver if he/she will be alone and is open to conversation.
- Show up simply to offer conversation and support. Call or send cards, texts, or emails to offer encouragement. You might not receive a response, at least right away, but any message of concern will brighten the day of both the caregiver and the patient.
- Help the caregiver pin down specific tasks that need to be done. I told people I couldn’t think of what I needed until I tripped over it, and that seemed too late to ask for help. Several friends and family members started to show up to ask, “What needs to be done that you haven’t gotten to yet?” They mopped floors, vacuumed, unloaded the dishwasher, tidied the kitchen, cleaned the patio, basically any household chore waiting.
- Offer to do the grocery shopping, or be available to pick up something at the spur of the moment.
- Plan a “kidnapping” if it works into the caregiver’s schedule. Go as a couple, one to stay with the patient, the other to spirit the caregiver away for a special activity. It could be a mani/pedi, a movie, lunch, or simply coffee in a different environment.
- Offer to take on coordination or other duties. When Al decided he wanted a “going home to Jesus” party before he died, one couple jumped in to handle the entire event. Others took over the reception after the memorial service or volunteered to stay with small children during the service.
- If you have the skill, offer to prepare a video photo gallery for the memorial service, or work on photo/memorabilia displays.
- Stay in touch afterward with calls, cards, visits, or invitations to dinner or some other activity. Widows/widowers often get overlooked by the couples in their lives. I still regularly attend our couples’ small group, go camping with friends. My game night group recruited an eighth person to round out two tables.
Do you see yourself in any of these roles? It doesn’t have to involve a death. Maybe you know someone has had surgery, or who is going through chemo, or any number of traumas. Someone needs you. Will you be there for them, invest in them? And maybe, God will multiply His blessings to you in return.
Tell me about ways you offered sacrificial love to others.