Advice on expressing sympathy and lending emotional support to a family member whose child may be facing a serious illness? Both for the “dunno for sure” phase and for the “know for sure either way” phase. Comforting is not my strong suit and halp plz because this can’t be fixed so soothing is only way to be helpful.
This is the second part of my answer to this question. The first part was about emotional support. This part is about practical support.
I think that there are probably some things you can fix in this situation.
The problem of possible illness can’t be fixed. Secondary problems surrounding the situation *can* be fixed.
When a child is facing a serious illness, all kinds of practical things get complicated. Diagnosing and treating illness involves a lot of medical appointments, tests, insurance wrangling, and other complications. And it happens with no warning, when people are already busy with other things. They’re probably both physically and emotionally exhausted. They probably could use a lot of help.
Some possible problems that might be solveable:
- If you live nearby and are comfortable babysitting, offering to watch their kids some could be really helpful
- If they have other kids, someone has to watch them while they’re at medical appointments with the possibly-sick kid
- Suddenly needing more childcare than you expected to need is a logistical nightmare, and it is very likely that they don’t have as much help as they need
- Even if they only have the one child, more childcare would probably be helpful
- The obligations of life don’t go away when a child gets sick, and there are likely many things they’re behind on that are hard to catch up on while caring for a child
Helping kids with homework:
- If their kids go to school, they likely have a lot of weekly homework that they need adult support with
- This can get very complicated if parents are suddenly very busy and emotionally exhausted
- Even if you don’t live nearby, if you can be available for some homework help over email or Skype, that could take a *lot* of pressure off of the family.
Communicating and running interference:
- When a kid gets sick, a lot of people want constant updates
- This is generally exhausting and burdensome to the kid and the parents
- Sometimes it helps to have a point person for updates and boundary-assertion
- Or someone to run a CaringBridge page so they don’t have to
- I don’t know if they’d want this or if you’d want to do this; some people find this helpful but I don’t know what they want or what your relationship with them is like
Helping them with the insurance company and other bureaucracy:
- If they are in the US, an insurance company is probably being awful to them and refusing to pay for things
- Or making things needlessly complicated and confusing
- They also might need to apply for government or charitable assistance at some point
- Which is hard to do when you’re overwhelmed and exhausted and have never done so before
- If you’re good at navigating that kind of thing, you might be able to help them
- Or you might be able to do research and find out things that can help them
- Again, I don’t know if they’d want this kind of support from you or not. Some people do; some don’t
- Illness is expensive no matter where you live, even under ideal circumstances
- And unexpected major expenses make life really hard
- If you are in a position to help them financially, it would probably make some things significantly easier for them
- Money can’t fix the biggest problem, but it can go a long way towards fixing the secondary problems
Other general life logistics: There are a lot of things that get hard when there’s a crisis, that they might welcome help with:
- Keeping their house clean
- Cooking some food (or ordering them the occasional pizza)
- Mowing the lawn if they have one
- Getting groceries and supplies
- Picking up prescriptions
- Getting kids to and from school
- Keeping their computers and network in good working order
- Making sure bills get paid on time
These are the things I can think of offhand. I don’t know which, if any, it makes sense for you to do. I don’t know the extent to which your relationship with them makes help appropriate. I think it is likely that there are things that you could do to be materially helpful — and also important to realize that you don’t have to do all of them (and probably shouldn’t).
tl;dr When someone’s facing a major life problem that you can’t solve, they’re generally also facing secondary problems that it’s possible to help them with. Scroll up for some specific suggestions.