Being in the hospital can be scary, stressful, exhausting and generally awful. “What can I do?” is the single most common question I’m asked when I’m in the hospital with my daughter, Kemi. I’m deeply grateful for the helping hand, but I usually don’t have an answer in the moment because I can’t focus on the question. But now that I have time to think about it, here are 10 things you can do for your friend who is in the hospital with their child:
1. A good cup of coffee will be greatly appreciated.
Hospital coffee is often terrible and terribly expensive. A nice cup of coffee is an easy thrill.
2. Visit them at the hospital, even it’s a short stay.
Not everyone can, and certainly no one can every time, but consider coming for a quick visit. A hug goes a really long way. Limit your visit, though. Your friend is tired. They probably stayed up too late and woke up too early. It might feel like a waste to drive all that way for a short visit. It isn’t.
3. Bring food from outside the hospital.
Hospitals vary, of course. But even in a hospital with good food, food from the outside will be appreciated. Hospitals and even units within hospitals all have different policies about food so check their policy online first.
4. Offering a gas or grocery card could help your friend with money issues.
This is something no one is going to ask for when you ask what they need, but I promise it is almost certainly needed. Even with great insurance, hospitalizations rack up costs. Expenses like food, parking and gas won’t break the bank in a day. But days and weeks add up very quickly.
I can give a pretty accurate budget overview for each of the hospitals we frequent, and some are much harder on the bottom line than others. Even if we stay afloat during the hospitalization, it’s really hard to catch up when you begin to fall behind on your other bills. I don’t hear people talk about this a lot, but nearly every family I know with a kid who spends time in the hospital is behind on bills. This is why. We are on the same tight budgets that most people are on; the surprise expenses of an unplanned or extended hospitalization can throw the whole budget off for months. If money makes you uncomfortable, or if you think it will make your friend uncomfortable, you might consider gas cards or grocery cards.
5. Take the siblings out.
Spoil them. You will have my undying affection if you make my children happy during these times. Kids struggle a lot when their siblings are in the hospital. They get less of their parents when they need more. They’re worried. They’re scared. They might be feeling like they’re less important than their siblings. They even be might be mad. Give them a break from all the focus on their sick sibling.
6. Don’t forget to smile.
No one does. People think they should feel sad. The thing is, moods are contagious. Bring a little joy. Sing with them. Laugh with them. Don’t force a mood you don’t feel, but don’t leave all the smiles at the hospital door, either. We need them inside the room, too.
7. Tell your friend you’re going to pray and then do it.
When my friends ask for prayers, I pray right away. I will forget if I put it off. It doesn’t take long, and I can pray later, too. I believe God listens and knows what they need, so this doesn’t have to be complicated. Let your friend know you’re praying. Just knowing you’re thinking of them is helpful in and of itself. If you don’t pray, send good thoughts. That’s helpful, too.
8. Create a care package.
Care packages are a tried and true method of making someone feel loved. In a hospital care package, send a mix of things they might need and things that will make them happy. This doesn’t have to be a huge expensive thing. Here is a list of things you might consider including:
- Clothing: For your friend or their kid. They’re not home. Laundry might be an issue. The kid is probably in a hospital gown, but they will have to go home at some point, and the clothing they came in is probably dirty.
- A real toothbrush and/or razor: We always forget to bring them.
- Books or magazines: For either the patient or the parent.
- A toy for the patient.
- Lotion, shampoo samples or lip gloss.
- Silk flowers or balloons: Real flowers are allowed on some units but not most.
- A coloring book: I suppose you could get one for their child, too.
- Essential oils: Think calming blends. I bring a roller bottle with frankincense and lavender in almond oil.
You know your friend. Are they silly? Bring a slinky. Are they serious? Bring a journal. When you’re planning a package, you might think of it as a sensory escape from the hospital. What would you want to look at or smell or hear or do?
9. Bring dinner for the other family members at home.
10. Offer to sit with the patient.
One of the hardest things about being a parent is you feel guilty leaving, even for a minute. You can’t completely solve this problem for your friend, but you can offer to stay in the hospital room with their child while your friend takes a shower, goes on a walk or steps out for a meal.
Bonus #11: Keep asking what you can do. In the moment, your friend might not be able to answer. They’ll tired. Their mind is occupied. When I am asked, if I answer at all, I am likely to say something inane like, “Bring me a fresh towel and a banana.” But you know, I heard what you meant to say. I heard, “I love you and I am here.” That is huge. That’s the biggest thing on the list.