How Can I Help? – Supporting a Family in Crisis

My sweet little one was hospitalized the day after Thanksgiving this year. What started out as strep turned into something deadly. She was immediately placed in the PICU and stayed in the hospital for seventeen days. She is recovering at home now, and is getting stronger every day.

Our dramatic and unexpected experience has shown me much of what it looks like to support a family in crisis. We have had our moments in the past. Moments that we needed support and extra love. But when you have a child in the hospital that is fighting for their life, you tend to lose your mind a bit. Having support from those around you is imperative. I know that for some, supporting a friend, neighbor, coworker or even family member isn’t always intuitive. So, here are my tips from what I have learned from my own experiences:

Emotional Support:

  1. Listen. And Listen Powerfully. To Listen Powerfully, you remain absolutely silent until the person who is sharing is done. You never interrupt, gasp or murmur, “How terrible” or, “I can’t imagine.” Basically you don’t escalate the drama. When the person who is sharing is done speaking it is helpful to say, “I’m here,” “I’m sorry,” “How can I support you?” When you Listen Powerfully, you don’t question if it is, “Really that bad,” or say, “There is a reason for this,” (NO NEVER THAT), or respond with “I know just how you feel, my cousin went through the same thing.” Nope, you don’t know how they feel. Even when I was in the hospital talking to another parent about their experience, theirs is still different from mine. 
    You also don’t want to make the person who is sharing feel the need to comfort or console you (I’ve had to do that a few times).
    It is very appreciated and appropriate to say, “I don’t know what to say, thank you for sharing.” This is an opportunity to pause and think how you can support someone who is brave enough to share with you because it’s not about you or your comfort level. When someone Powerfully Listens to me, my feelings are validated, I feel supported, seen and heard. With that I can find strength to carry on knowing I’m not alone.
  2. Send a text or email to your friend that you are thinking of them and make it clear that they do NOT need to respond. I so appreciated messages because I saw that people were thinking and praying for our family but I didn’t have the energy to write or call back.
  3. Don’t say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” I have said this too but it’s not helpful. Either say nothing at all or offer one of my practical suggestions below. Because when you’re in crisis you don’t have the emotional energy to tell people what they can do. This is on you.
Ronald McDonald lunches, prepared by strangers and so appreciated.

Practical Support:

Pick what works for you and go with it:

  1. Meals. On the day we went into the hospital, a friend ran to Costco and brought over dinner. It was not fancy or home cooked but my kids ate well that night and I didn’t have to think about it. People are still bringing us meals as we recover at home and it has been such a blessing. Other families have run to the grocery store and bought essentials they would get for themselves: fruit, granola bars, a gallon of milk, etc. A friend set up Take Them a Meal  so we wouldn’t get too many meals on one day.
  2. Clean their house! Two friends came to my house and stripped all of our beds, washed the sheets at home and came back to remake our beds. Another group of friends pitched in for a cleaning service. When I had to run home for a shower, I let out a huge sigh because my house was not another thing I was letting slip.
  3. Take the other kids. It was important to my husband and I that our other kids had as much of a normal existence as possible. Friends had them over after school, drove them to practice and sometimes had them over for dinner. Lots of people offered to take the kids, but we mostly accepted from those my kids knew well.
  4. Gift cards. Gift cards to restaurants takes the thinking out of feeding the kids at home or ourselves when in the hospital. A good friend gave me a gift card for coffee so I could treat myself on the way to the hospital at the drive-thru. A gift card for a massage is also an amazing idea.
  5. Come to the hospital and visit. What helped keep us going were daily visits with a cup of coffee or lunch, books, magazines and snacks.
  6. If you know the family well, do something silly. When our daughter started to get better my friend smuggled a couple of beers in her purse which we poured into paper cups so we wouldn’t get busted by the nurses. That afternoon erased some of the weariness that I was carrying, because I longed to do something fun and “normal.” 

Having a kid in the hospital gives you perspective (to put it mildly).  I do not know how we would have gotten through this if it weren’t for all of the support we received. At a time where some of us may question where our world is headed, I can assure you that there is still plenty of love, generosity and hope in the world. Of that I am most certain. 




Julie is a mom of five boys and one girl. She is a runner, biker, yoga instructor and socializer. That about sums it up. Believe it or not, she really does enjoy the soccer, cross country, swim team, track, dance classes, basketball, and theater her kids are involved in as long as she has another mom (or dad) to talk to during these events. Julie is starting a new adventure going back to school to get her Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy at Edgewood College.


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