Families with a child affected by a mental/neurological disorder often live a chaotic and stress filled existence. Often, the struggle is invisible to the public. Unknown to even neighbors, a series of chronic storms erupt inside the home. Furthermore, stigmas make seeking support challenging. Parents struggle to give time to all of their children as well as their marriage Siblings may resent the extra attention to the affected child. It is all too easy for fracture to take place and the results to each member can have short and long term consequences.
You want to help but how do you do it? Here is a list of suggestions that can get you started.
Food: It connects us. But good news-you don’t have to be a gourmet chef to share it. How about ordering a pizza? One of the best dinners shared with us was ham and cheese sliders that we could warm up and grab quickly on our way to the hospital. Truthfully, anything that offers a quick bit of nutrition and satisfies, feeds the stomach and the soul. Always make sure you are aware of any food restrictions (especially true if the child has a sensory issue.)
Gift cards. Medical bills quickly consume a budget. Sure, there are payment plans but when you have at least a few going, there is not much left for any extras. In addition, schedules can become packed with doctors appointments and unexpected health related crises. Furthermore, siblings often feel left behind as time and money are consumed quickly. Special family outings often disappear. Gift cards for a movie theater, McDonalds, and other “extras” are an appreciated treat. Gas cards are also beneficial.
Offer to take siblings for a few hours. Respite is necessary for all family members. Routines often become interrupted, noise levels escalate, conflict can be frequent. These factors contribute to a stressful environments. Can you offer your home as a quiet place of refuge? Renting a movie, supplying snacks, sharing skills, or even letting kids play on their electronic devices or read in a peaceful place is a gift. If you are more adventurous, try a park, ice skating or the beach.
Care for the affected child: This suggestion requires a familiarity with the child and their needs. Sometimes a new environment can be helpful. Other times, it may create further anxiety. If you can provide this option, it sends an affirming message to the child that they are capable of being loved on by those outside their family. To the parents, it sends an empathetic message.
Put together a gift basket: Parents naturally tend to invest their time, energy, and resources toward the health of their child. As a result, they are left “empty.” This affects their own emotional and physical well-being. It also leads to strained marriages. How about a gift basket filled with bubble bath, hand lotion, special treats, rental movie gift card, coffee shop gift card, teas, bottle of wine? Put on your creative hat and see what happens!
Share resources. Let’s face it, receiving money from others can be awkward. Yet, it may be the very thing that would help alleviate stress. Could you ask to pay a bill? Could you pay for a sitter? There are creative ways to share financially while not taking away dignity or creating an uncomfortable situation.
When a child fights a physical illness, it often leads to a rally of support. The visible symptoms communicate the urgency of support to others. Unfortunately, mental illness, addiction, neurological disorders do not always present in a way that draws attention. The family struggles silently. When we are aware of others’ needs, we become better advocates and neighbors. And we are transformed in the process.
How do those “compassions” manifest themselves to us? In my last post, I wrote about God providing an endless supply of compassions.
His compassion is never limited.
23 It is new every morning.
His faithfulness is great.”
God’s compassions extend to us in many forms
In May, Scott, Seth and I traveled to Mayo Clinic. This four day trip revealed not only medical answers but a reminder that God’s mercies are “new” every morning. I always read that verse as meaning that there is an unending supply of God’s mercies. While that is true, another truth emerges to me: God’s compassions are revealed in a multitude of forms. New forms. Forms that I didn’t expect.
In this case-mercy was granted to our family through the body of Christ. Prayers, meals, groceries, listening ears, financial support, and care for Lena and Eli during our week in Minnesota.The burden to seek out Mayo Clinic was simply a thought in October.
When answers seemed to elude us, taking him to Mayo surfaced in my mind. However, lurking in my mind were the practical questions: How would we afford it? Our medical debt was piling up by the week. Who would watch our other two kids? For a whole week? What about…….? Yet, as it turned out, the finances came together and a group of amazing friends-some who didn’t know each other- merged into a second family for Lena and Eli. I still marvel at how God’s compassions came to us in that week.
In April, Scott’s beloved grandmother passed away from a brief battle with cancer. She was 97 years old. Yet, we were stunned. I know that sounds surprising but……Granny lived independently, she drove, birthday and holiday meals were still made with love by her. And…..she still drove weekly to deliver Meals on Wheels to the elderly. In fact, she was nominated by Meals on Wheels as national volunteer of the year in 2012! Everyone who knew her, experienced a taste of Heaven. Providing meals, celebrating birthdays, sacrificing time, sharing her home with family and friends of family in need of refuge, and living in such a way as to provide financially for her family after her death- God’s compassions extended through her.
As I found out at her funeral, her desire to show God’s mercy to others came from the examples of her own parents. One story, in particular, struck me. As a child, growing up in Delaware, she lived next door to a small boy born with Downs Syndrome. As we all know, people have difficulty accepting those that are different. Combine that truth with a lesser knowledge of how to care for children born with anamolies and the result usually involved sending the child “away” from society.
However, Granny’s parents consciously communicated to her that all of us were created by God and share in His likeness. Therefore, it was expected that she would treat this boy with the same respect as any other human being. The same was expected in regards to race. For individuals considered outcasts in society, Granny’s kindness toward them was countercultural. God’s compassions were extended to others through her life.
In a poignant letter written by her son-in-law, he summed it up well: “she always greeted us with hugs and kisses, done with an enthusiasm which left no doubt we were home….and loved…. She made love real.” Her ability to extend God’s compassions to others overflowed out of the supply of compassions God had extended to her.
How do you make love real to others? How do the compassions of God physically work their way out of your supply and into the lives of those who you encounter?