A friend is dying. Help me help her and her family.
April 27, 2010 1:19 AM   Subscribe

A friend is dying. Help me help her and her family.

I've been pretty fortunate so far - I haven't really been close to anyone who has had a lingering and terminal illness. A friend has had cancer for years, but is now non-operative and non-treatable. This is new for me. I really don't know what I might be able to do help her out.

Relevant background: this is a friend from work. A wonderful person, but not a close friend, so whatever I do should probably respect that. She's confined to home and probably can't have visitors for very long. I'm also friends with her mother. I was thinking of cooking meals for the mom, since daughter has very specific diet restrictions.

Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
posted by iftheaccidentwill to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Offer your help and your presence, both to your friend and to her mother, keep in touch, consult with her mother (or her) about what you might bring as a gift. You might be welcome, or... not. Sadly, I didn't have your fortune, and of a few (a few too many) friends that passed at a young age, all of them at some point down the road made known that visits were no longer... necessary. But, absolutely, be there if you're needed or wanted.

I'm sorry.
posted by _dario at 1:36 AM on April 27, 2010

I second _dario. Often people default to avoiding the situation, which is too bad. I find the best thing to do is offer assistance. A genuine "Let me know if I can do anything" is comforting to the people involved and also helps soothe that urge to help. Depending on the situation people often don't need/want a lot of things going on, so it's best to wait until they ask or you sense they REALLY need help.
posted by thorny at 1:52 AM on April 27, 2010

When my mom was dying I was pretty foggy. Friends who said "let me know if I can do anything," probably didn't get requests from me, because I couldn't think of what needed to be done. People who said "can I grocery shop for you? Do some laundry? Pick up take-out from your favorite place?" got requests from me, because it meant I didn't have to remember things that needed to be done (laundry, food). Your friend's family may vary, of course.

My condolences to you. You're a good friend.
posted by rtha at 1:59 AM on April 27, 2010 [18 favorites]

I am so sorry for everyone involved. This is always a terrible situation to be in.

I would suggest making contact through the mother as a gatekeeper who can let you know when your friend is feeling most up to receiving you, so you needn't feel like you are blundering in on a deathbed, but simply paying your respects with all due kindness and consideration.

Preparing food that meets dietary restrictions sounds like an excellent idea that would be hugely appreciated, and if you are up for that, that is a wonderful thing that you could do.
posted by mayhap at 2:12 AM on April 27, 2010

I was thinking of cooking meals for the mom, since daughter has very specific diet restrictions.

This is it. When you're in a situation like this you're not hungry, you forget/neglect food/sleep, and this just makes you feel worse. You have to force yourself to eat. The body needs nourishment, but food is the farthest thing from your mind. (It's common in America to bring food AFTER someone passes away for the same reasons.) Prepared food, nothing fancy, something they can eat straight away and/or put in the fridge will be greatly appreciated.

Feeding someone is a simple act of human kindness which can never be wrong. Do it more than once.

Sorry about your situation.
posted by three blind mice at 3:26 AM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Maybe you can prepare meals that can keep in the freezer for a while. That way, they are available with minimal preparation, and in the hard days that will come later.

Rtha has a good point. Make a few specific offers. Don't take it personally if you don't get a response, or a negative response. Offer again a little while later.

And keep up your contact with your friend's mother over the long term.
posted by ES Mom at 5:33 AM on April 27, 2010

I agree with the people who say to make specific offers. "Hi Friend's Mom, I'm in the grocery store is there anything I can pick up for you? How are you doing on milk and bread?" One of the most helpful things somebody did for us was show up with sandwich making supplies: cold cuts, cheese, and bread.

Some basic things can get overwhelming or just plain forgotten, especially things like yard work and housework. Could you afford a visit from a landscaper to mow the lawn (my city is super critical, if the dandelions get higher than 11" you get a fine.) a Merry Maids type place to clean up the house. Offer to take a trip to the Fluff 'n' Fold or dry cleaner.

If the mom is spending a lot of time at the hospital she might appreciate a Hospital Care Package. A cheesy novel, healthy snacks that don't need a fridge, crossword puzzles, chocolate, a journal, things like that. (It's a tradition in my family that whenever somebody is in the hospital we bring them all the 'trash rag' magazines. When I had my kids was the only time in my life I read the National Enquirer or Star, it was fun.)

Even if you're friend is not communicative, her mom might like a conversation. Sometimes it's really nice to talk to somebody about what's going on. Just calling and asking how she's doing (Mom not daughter) could be appreciated.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:18 AM on April 27, 2010

I will say if you're friends with her mother, she may need an ear or some help too. I can't imagine seeing my child die. Ugh. She is going to need you after this. And you may need her.

Be specific in the request to help. Visit. Laugh. Enjoy.

My sincerest sympathy for everyone involved.
posted by stormpooper at 6:45 AM on April 27, 2010

Consider helping your friend's caretaker to set up a schedule for people to bring food and do laundry and clean with Caring Bridge. This could help lots of people make a connection with your friend, and help take a load off of your friend's family.
posted by pickypicky at 6:52 AM on April 27, 2010

Also consider care calendar.
posted by pickypicky at 7:02 AM on April 27, 2010

Sorry, I read your question wrong. I thought your friend was worse than it seems when I read it again.

The housework and yard work ideas are the same.

As somebody on a special diet I agree that it can be difficult for other people to cook for her. You still could go to the store for her and make sure she has the ingredients she needs. You could ask if she is getting a lot of visitors, she might like cookies or something that she can offer guests. That way she feels more like a hostess and less like a patient.

The hospital kit I talked about could easily be made for your friend instead of her mom. Put lots of fun little things in a cute little bag so she can just grab it and take it with her to the hospital or doctor appointments.

My condolences, you are a good friend/coworker.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:45 AM on April 27, 2010

Mow the yard. I'm doing that this week for extended family (well, the relationship is complicated, the family of the boyfriend of my aunt) after the death of the patriarch.

I've got a few hours on the riding mower left today, then today and tomorrow I'll move the firewood over to a different property.

This is a task that none of the grandchildren can handle, for whatever reason. But I'm in a good position to get it done.

If there isn't some big obvious task, go for stopping by with food. Bring fruits and vegetables though. We just finished a weeks worth of spaghetti casserole and chicken something. While very thoughtful, all that food has left me a bit...stopped up.

If you bring a watermelon, cut at least some of it for them. This seems like an east task, but when you're busy and grieving it's not easy at all.
posted by bilabial at 7:49 AM on April 27, 2010

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