I’ve told this story briefly before, but it illustrates my point. One afternoon, I was sitting quietly in the lounge and my husband answered a knock on the door. There stood a friend who had visited the day before. This time she wore faded jeans and an old shirt. In her hands she carried a basket.
“I’ve come to trim Candy,” she announced. After a quick “Hi!” to me, she called to our Maltese poodle, whom another visitor had referred to as a miniature sheep. Raylene took the dog into the back yard. When I plucked up energy to investigate, she had Candy standing on the garden table, while she moved around clipping and removing huge chunks of dirty white fur. It really did look like sheep-shearing time had arrived.
This is what I mean when I say an offer I couldn’t refuse.
If Raylene had phoned and offered to trim Candy, I would definitely have said “No way!” I would then have persuaded my husband to take the dog to the doggy parlor for a cut, shampoo and set that we couldn’t afford. As it was, my cute little poodle was once again cute, cuddly, and clean by the time my friend left for home.
Saying “if you need anything, call me” puts the burden on your friend, and she almost certainly won’t respond. Don’t offer. If you definitely know she needs it done, just do it.
1. Pick up a few things at the shop you know she’s bound to need. If in doubt, buy something for the freezer—or something she can freeze if she doesn’t want it immediately. NOTE: It’s a great idea to phone her from the shop and say, “I’m in Pick ‘n Pay and I see they have oranges on special. Can I bring you some?” Beware or puting her into an embarrasing situation of having to pay you when she doesn’t have the cash.
2. Rent a positive movie you think she’ll enjoy and just take it to her. Suggest you watch together. If she clearly doesn’t want to, leave it for her, saying you’ll be back for it in the morning. That may encourage her to watch even though she doesn’t want to—so be sure it’s a suitable movie!
3. Pop into the house when she’s away at radiation or chemo and vacuum the carpet, or empty the garbage. Leave a note (so she doesn’t re-do it) and be gone before she gets home. (This only applies if you have her key and you know her well enough!)
4. Take your camera along early in the process, and snap a few casual and fun photographs of her with her family, with you, and alone. These will motivate her and encourage her when she begins to look haggard or loses her hair.
5. Sit with her during chemotherapy. If you’re providing transport, don’t offer. Just say, “I’m coming in with you. I’ve got a great magazine we can look at.” I had a friend who was on chemo who insisted she was able to drive herself there and back. Because she lived on the other side of town, I agreed, but I still met her at the oncology ward and sat with her during treatment.
6. Ask for her post box key, and tell her you’ll collect her mail from the post office every Tuesday and Friday (whatever fits your schedule), and take any mail she has ready for posting.
7. Hire someone to clean her home. Chip in with a few friends and try to do this on a weekly or fortnightly schedule if possible.
8. Bring along your weeding tools. Arrive one afternoon, as a friend of mine did, and spend an hour weeding a flower bed that needs attention. Or if you have your own gardener, bring him along for a couple of hours while you make your friend tea and spend time with her.
9. Offer help to the help, if your friend has one. Ask the caregiver what you can get at the shops. The caregiver is expected to be with the patient all the time, but she too has her own needs.
10. Walk the dog when you’re there to visit—or if you live close by, tell her you’ll be round each evening at 5 to walk the dog.
11. Say you’ll call for the kids one afternoon when you know they don’t have activities, and take them to the park. Or offer to take the teenage daughter shopping for a new outfit. (Your treat! Or this would also work pre-special occasions, when your friend wants to get her daughter something special to wear.)
12. Babysit the kids. If she’s up to going out with her husband one evening, suggest to him that he makes the arrangements and you’ll come and sit with the children.
So take a lesson from Godfather and make an offer your friend can’t refuse. But do make it an offer. If you see she doesn’t want it, step back and say, “When you’re ready to do it, give me a shout.” She’s more likely to get back to you than if you ask “How can I help?”
For further suggestions, see The Be-Attitudes of Visiting.