Child with Congenital Illness Died, How to Help?
February 26, 2017 8:17 AM   Subscribe

My neighbor's congenitally ill 10-year-old son passed away yesterday. While not unexpected it is obviously terrible and sad. The family consists of two parents and four surviving kids, ranging in age from 5 to 12. Basically, how can I help? Right now I'm making a few kid-friendly casseroles, fruit salad and yogurt parfaits. I was thinking of getting all the kids new sketchbooks and pencils/markers.

I plan to check in on them regularly, continue to bring fresh/healthy food, offer to take their dog for a walk with mine, offer to take the kids, etc. What else can I do?

The family moved next door to us 4 years ago. We're "chatting at the fence" types of neighbors; we don't hang out. All suggestions appreciated.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes to Human Relations (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think you are being an incredibly thoughtful and kind neighbor. Another kindness might be to housesit for them during the wake/funeral so it's not vulnerable to burglars. Speaking of that, can you house out-of-town relatives coming into the funeral? If you're technologically inclined, can you scan photos and/or assemble a slide show for them? Laundry can be helpful; doing the sheets and towels isn't too personal, but would be welcome especially if they'll be hosting guests; you can collect them, do the wash at your place and then return the stuff (and, if it feels right, make the beds).

If you are able, make a donation in the child's name to whatever foundation supports research into his condition.
posted by carmicha at 8:46 AM on February 26, 2017 [10 favorites]

Best answer: When my mom passed last spring, paper products were helpful, as was TP (my dad stockpiles the stuff, but it was still very thoughtful since we had so many people in the house). Drinks were helpful; lots of people brought food, but the cousins who brought a load of 2 liters and plastic cups were really helpful. My middle sister and I both have food sensitivities, and food with that in mind was a huge help [so kid friendly food is a great idea; thank you.]

Yes on the dogwalking, if the dog is good with strangers; if I hadn't had a housemate to watch my pup, I'd've been up a creek and has a huge boarding or dog sitting bill.

And doing what you're doing here - asking us what would be helpful, instead of them - is fantastic. Even after months of her being in and out of the hospital, we were all doing a lousy job of asking for help and then just couldn't brain, so when people asked "how can I help?" we couldn't answer. But folks just started showing up with food/offering to sit with the house/etc, and it was really helpful. If there's someone who isn't the family but is close to them that you can ask for needs, that would work too.
posted by joycehealy at 9:13 AM on February 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: When my best friend's brother died of brain cancer at the age of 12, we offered him and his sister sanctuary at our house. We were two doors down. They took us up on it. THere were tons of people coming and going, crying and wanting to talk to them. The kids just wanted to be left alone. So, whenever they wanted the kids could escape to our house to watch tv or to just talk and grieve in a safe quiet space. We also made them whatever their favorite foods were so that they didn't have to eat the well meaning and probably delicious adult casseroles.
posted by AugustWest at 9:29 AM on February 26, 2017 [38 favorites]

Best answer: After my daughter died, one of our neighbours mowed our lawn all spring without any fuss - we'd just come home and it was done. I still feel grateful years and years later.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:35 AM on February 26, 2017 [53 favorites]

Best answer: Great suggestions from the folks above.... And, what you're already doing is wonderful.

I'll only add that, the hardest part after the loss of a child is sometimes weeks, months, years down the road, when discussion of that loss and that child is uncomfortable for everyone else. Be the person that is willing to reprocess the emotions with your neighbors, just listen. A lot of folks, due to their own discomfort with death, will cross the street when they see a grieving person coming down the sidewalk. Never be that person.
posted by HuronBob at 10:12 AM on February 26, 2017 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Piggybacking on the lawn mowing suggestion, if you live somewhere snowy, taking care of the front walk and driveway would be appreciated. Similarly, for future readers: raking leaves.
posted by carmicha at 11:15 AM on February 26, 2017

Best answer: If it feels right, in a couple of weeks when all the visitors are gone invite them over for dinner or coffee and board games or whatever.
posted by bunderful at 11:37 AM on February 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You are being a really lovely neighbor. The dog walks sound great as do the yard maintenance ideas above. Do you know other neighbors in the area? If so, maybe could organize a mealtrain for others in the neighborhood to help. (Maybe disseminate via Facebook or NextDoor or other neighborhood social platform?)
posted by stillmoving at 11:48 AM on February 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This sounds awfully utilitarian but after the initial rush, people fade away so... put reminders in your phone now, for a full year. Pick a random day each month going forward to take them something or knock on the door or drop over some flowers or stick an Easter egg for each kid in their postbox or whatever. And set one for the one-year anniversary and be sure to let them know you are thinking of them.

None of these things will "remind" them because they will not ever forget.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:42 PM on February 26, 2017 [25 favorites]

Best answer: It's not quite the same, but when my father had his heart attack, one of the things that helped was people offering rides to us kids, including picking my brother up at the airport. I couldn't drive well at that time because of a hip injury, so having that available was super, incredibly helpful.
posted by gloraelin at 1:07 PM on February 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding DarlingBri's advice above...
A coworker/friend of mine lost her daughter in a car crash 6 years ago. I've made a point of doing something simple every year on her daughter's birthday, on Mothers Day, and on the date of her daughter's death to let my friend know that I am thinking of her and her daughter on those days. It's usually something
as simple as leaving a note on her desk that says "Be kind to yourself today."
At first I wasn't sure this was a good idea as I didn't want to stir up memories--but I quickly realized that I wouldn't be reminding her of her loss since her "new normal" means she's reminded of her loss every day no matter what anyone else does or doesn't do.
Anyway, my friend had often told me how comforted she is by my small gestures on these particular days. Perhaps something similar will help your neighbors.
posted by bookmammal at 1:08 PM on February 26, 2017 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Yep, just make food. A dinner. A lunch. Maybe watch the kids for a few hours, sure.
It's unbelievably helpful.

And just listening. Offering an ear. Reminding them they're supported by a web of community.
You're a really good neighbor. World could use a few more.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:05 PM on February 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. The kids loved the art supplies and made some lovely pictures they gave me.

Final respects are one evening this week -- religious Mass and burial are the next morning. What is the most appropriate thing to do? Do I go to everything? I assume yes.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:24 AM on March 2, 2017

Best answer: Attend whatever parts you feel comfortable attending--the family won't be keeping score.
YMMV--but personally I attend the viewing but not the formal mass/service / burial unless the deceased is a relative or very close friend.
posted by bookmammal at 10:57 AM on March 2, 2017

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