What gift can I give a family with a possibly dying father?
July 11, 2018 3:01 PM   Subscribe

My neighbors are a family of four with young children and the Dad has cancer.

I suspected he had cancer for a long time now, but I didn't want to impose. I don't know how comfortable they would feel talking to someone like me who is living alone and who barely knows them. In any case I saw the mom crying one day and asked her how she was. She tried to hide how upset she was, but told me her husband had cancer of the spine and the brain... and it's in his lungs too. He appears to be walking around fine though (though he shows the signs of radiation treatment on his skin). I don't know the prognosis, but when I heard he had cancer in all those areas I figured those little kids are soon to lose their dad. I want to get the family something, but I don't know what. I first thought maybe a gift certificate to several family restaurants so they could have meals together before he goes, but that's a bad idea as he's likely on a special diet or something. Then I thought maybe a spa day for the mom, but I find that for me, when I'm worried I hate being pampered at a spa where I just lay there with my thoughts haunting me while others treat me. At least when I do chores I can take my mind off things. So I dunno. Any Ideas?

I can afford to spend a few hundred if I need to on this. I did ask her if her family needed anything, but there's no way she would admit it to me if they did.
posted by fantasticness to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am so very sorry for the family in this situation.

What might be the most practical? Cash.

Just get a beautiful card, and put some cash in the card. They'll have the freedom to spend it as they wish, and there's no stress as to whether or not they'll use a gift certificate to Certain Special Place X.
posted by spinifex23 at 3:06 PM on July 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would say a nice gift basket with maybe fruits (like oranges), small treats and toys for the kids, and a gift card to your local grocery store, saying, "I'm thinking of you and your family. Kind regards, Fantasticness."

People always love stuff for their kids, and a grocery store gift card means she can buy whatever she needs for her family, as well as her husband.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:09 PM on July 11, 2018 [11 favorites]

One thing I've learnt having to go through a lot of deaths during the last 15 years is that the worst time for the widow is after the funeral. You get a lot of support when your husband is ill, and when he dies, but then you are on your own. Right now, you might just leave a message of care, ask what they need. But then do it again when he has passed.
posted by mumimor at 3:11 PM on July 11, 2018 [28 favorites]

A giant, freshly-prepared salad, with some ingredients packaged separately (fancy parmesan cheese, sliced cucumber, etc.) in case the kids don't like them. Include a small fancy bottle of olive oil and another of vinegar (I recommend sherry vinegar) for dressing.

It takes forever to wash and prepare fresh vegetables, so they probably don't get to do it enough, and they're super healthy and delicious if done right.

Cut the lettuce up pretty fine so it takes the flavors well.

You can also give them a huge container for the salad, or don't give them that so they have the opportunity to give it back.

Bonus if you stop by with something tiny -- maybe some extra fresh peaches from the farmer's market -- beforehand and find out their salad preferences; you can start a conversation about what your/their kids like to eat to get the info, or just ask straight out.

The real gift is human connection. That comes with small gifts, or just stopping by.

Also: if there's something nice she can do for _you_, without being a burden, ask for it. Then you'll seem more approachable later if she needs something specific.
posted by amtho at 3:16 PM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

What about gifts of service? Helping to carry in groceries, mow the lawn, take out / bring in the garbage?
posted by kittydelsol at 3:26 PM on July 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

I would probably give a generically useful gift card like one of the Visa gift cards, or Amazon, but I also think you could go by (or catch her outside) with a small gift (cookies, maybe kid-friendly craft supplies, something like that) and just ask if there's a way you could specifically help.

You might offer something like, "hey, I do my grocery runs on Tuesday afternoons, would you like me to text you each time I go in case you need something" or "is there something helpful I can do for you around/outside the house like take your trash bins out and in every week?" or offer a standing childcare (or just child-occupying so her hands are free at home) date if you and she are comfortable with that.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:35 PM on July 11, 2018 [17 favorites]

It's not an act of service, but could you give her a gift certificate for a family photo session? have the photog come to the house, so it's not much effort.
posted by jennstra at 3:36 PM on July 11, 2018 [11 favorites]

Families with small kids can definitely use a gift of service. Grocery runs are a great idea (include a premade meal when you drop off - a simple stew, some mac & cheese, sandwich fixings, some cut-up fruit- kids eat often - like every couple of hours- and it can be tough to keep up with if you're not at your best). Taking the trash cans out /back in on trash day can help; offering to entertain the kids for an hour or so is good. You can do this at their house or yard, so that mom can keep an eye on things and you're not some skeevy stranger offering to take her kids to your house. It's summer so jumping in the sprinkler, having a scavenger hunt in the yard, doing small crafts, teaching the kids to use tools (my kids love this as it makes them feel like big kids plus they learn a real skill). Making sure my kids are occupied and they aren't asking for my attention every. five. minutes. would be a huge respite in difficult times, and it's a true act of kindness both for the parents but especially the kids.

Ask the mom if you can fix something, run to the hardware store, now the lawn, or make a phone call to arrange for a mobile oil change-guy to come service the car or a mobile stylist to come give the kids a haircut, etc. Maybe try to find a personal chef service to come to the house to do meal prep for the week, or create an online meal train for friends and neighbors to sign up for meal drop-offs a couple of times a week, or similarly for someone to help do kiddo drop-offs and pick-ups at school.
Making phone calls in general can be a huge help sometimes.

Good on you for paying attention to your neighbors and for asking this question. I hope that you are able to find a way to help that is comfortable for all.
posted by vignettist at 4:27 PM on July 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

I gave my daughter a gift certificate for a frozen meal delivery service, and she loved it. Got the idea from someone who got that as a gift when his second child was born. There are lots of those around, but I can only personally recommend Veestro, which is vegan. (Sorry - I can’t seem to make a link work right now, but it’s easy to Google.) That might be easier than a restaurant, since they don’t have to leave the house or all be able to eat the same thing.

But I also agree that watching the kids for an hour would be great.
posted by FencingGal at 4:44 PM on July 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

N'thing something for the adults to adult, while you watch the kids.
posted by TheAdamist at 6:09 PM on July 11, 2018

LynNever and vignettist are right: offer specific help, and for ordinary stuff. If there's anything you can do without asking (mow or shovel or whatever), do that. Leave cookies & fresh flowers for the table, but also do the crappy stuff of running a household. If you knew them better, I would extend that to doing dishes or laundry or baby-sitting, but you know your boundaries.

And if Husband does die, show up again and be the Useful Neighbor so they can do their grieving and ignore the boring household stuff.

Bless you for seeing a need and Comforting In.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:32 PM on July 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Cleaning service, maybe every two weeks or so, would be a boon to a mom and four kids. Could include laundry, too.
posted by MovableBookLady at 7:43 PM on July 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think the frozen meal delivery idea is great. You're letting them pick what they want, saving them work and making a bit of an occasion to share with the kids.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:45 PM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

If they need money, cash is king. Laundry and food is nice and extra but cash is king.

Having said that, when my dad had cancer, a group of his friends pooled and got him a TV in his room so he could watch it. They also got him a hospital bed (the one you can lever up and down) when he was too weak to move. Those things cost a lot of money.

Other than that, as your neighbours has small children, I echo all the comments about taking care of the kids. I would offer to take the small children for an afternoon or several afternoons (maybe get one of your friends to help) to let your neighbours have some quiet time. I know the best gift anyone can give me right now is to take my (one! single!) child and give me and my husband some adult time.
posted by moiraine at 1:48 AM on July 12, 2018

I just went through this with close friends, and I am going to support those who suggested cash (because there are so many expenses, and if he does die, there will be financial hardships) and services. I know that my friend just wanted to spend precious time with her husband and resented having to go out and do mundane things like shopping and errands. It was also hard for her to think of specific things she needed or her instinct was to say that they were fine and didn't need anything, so try to make it as specific and easy on her as possible. When I was going to visit them, I'd ask if she needed anything and she would immediately say no, and then I'd say "are you sure, do the kids need cereal or are you okay for bread?" and often that would elicit a need. My friends had a good support system (both teachers well loved in the community) and people gave them lots of food but they got pretty tired of lasagna and casseroles, so if you offer to get food, ask what the kids like...or ask the kids themselves.

Helping out with yard work is also an easy one..."Let me help you by mowing your lawn." I would take my friends' kids out to the movies every now and then...it is a good way to take their minds off their fear and sadness, but be prepared that they may want to spend as much time together as a family as possible. A lot will depend on how comfortable the kids feel with you.

I made this Ask when I was feeling particularly helpless and you might find some good ideas. I picked up "Exploding Kittens" and saved it for the visiting times at the funeral home. All the kids loved playing it...it passed the time for them and helped them bond with some relatives of the same age who they didn't know very well.

Also, and this may be tricky depending on how well you know them...if his diagnosis is terminal, encourage them to call Hospice sooner rather than later. Even if his prognosis is months or years. They were INCREDIBLY supportive and I know my friends wished they had contacted them sooner.
posted by Preserver at 9:04 AM on July 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Something to keep in your pocket for now, probably, but a horrible thing I have learned over the years: there's probably eventually going to be a funeral that is publicly announced, and there may be a point where he goes to the hospital/hospice/nursing home. Hospice is a little bit smarter about this in my experience but hospitals and nursing homes attract staffers whose sidehustle is knowing when houses are empty and having them robbed. (Just this past year, a friend's mom's house was robbed the same night the hospital called around to half a dozen nursing homes looking for a spot for someone who "lived alone and wouldn't be able to care for herself at home", great job guys.)

During situations where the house is empty, arrange with her to check in several times a day, turn a TV/lights on at night, park in her spot if applicable.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:33 PM on July 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

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