Over the past year, we received much assistance, and even more offers of assistance, so many that we were humbled and a little overwhelmed by it all. In the process, I came to realize that one type of assistance was far more humbling than the others.
For us, the greatest gift people gave us was time. A friend set up a care calendar, where anyone could sign up to come do after-dinner dishes, or wash-dry-fold a couple of loads of laundry, or make a run to the grocery store, or drop off a pre-cooked or easy-to-cook meal, or whatever other thing we needed that would otherwise have taken up our time.
By doing that, they let us use our time for other things. During the day, we could do the legwork of looking for treatment options, or the administrative paperwork of consent forms and privacy releases to try to qualify for studies, or arrange travel details when needed, or run errands that were really best done by us — things like grocery store runs. In the evening, we could concentrate on the kids’ bedtime and take our time with it, allowing a longer bath and adding an extra bedtime story and so on. We could be fully present for every one of Rebecca’s limited and dwindling number of bedtimes, and spend extra time with Carolyn and Joshua as they went through the same difficult passage with us. We didn’t have to short them while we concentrated on their dying sister; we could concentrate on all three, because we weren’t distracted by the back-brain awareness of undone chores.
I cannot overstate how incredibly valuable a gift that is. Not one of us can earn, steal, or otherwise acquire even an instant of extra time. Our time comes to us all at the same rate, never a surplus or deficit, and is of limited duration. Every one of those caring helpers came and spent some of their time, time every bit as finite and unreclaimable as ours, so that we could put our time to other uses. They sacrificed time with their families so we could be with ours. There is no gift that could ever be more precious than that.
It’s definitely hard to give that gift from a distance. What do you do if you know someone several states or oceans away who needs that same gift? Traveling to be with them, taking over that care role for a few days, is an amazing gift, but it’s obviously a lot easier if you live a few streets or suburbs away. Gift certificates for food delivery services or favorite restaurants or Amazon are a decent substitute if you can’t be there in person, though check to make sure the recipient isn’t already flooded with them.
Thankfully, we didn’t need help with expenses. Our health insurance’s deductibles and co-pays were well within our ability to pay them, and we were otherwise able to meet our financial obligations. Not everyone is nearly so lucky.
So what about someone who isn’t so lucky, who’s coping with crisis and tragedy, or for that matter a massively time-consuming joyful event like a newborn child, in addition to an almost-empty bank account? Money is time. Seriously. Donating to a fund for them, or even just sending a check, could keep them from having to work a second job to make ends meet, right when they need as much time as they can get. It could keep them from having to worry about the rent, food on the table, co-payments for office visits and medicine. Or even just straight-up payments for office visits and medicine, if (like far too many in America) they don’t have insurance at all. You might keep them from bankruptcy.
If nothing else, a donation can help them avoid added stress. Money may not be able to buy happiness, but it can greatly reduce pressure and worry and stress and strife, which is very close to the same thing. To be able to just pay for something rather than have to figure out whether it’s within the budget, whether it’s really that important, frees up that energy to concentrate on making better decisions, to put that energy toward making life a little better for themselves and their loved ones.
And of course, if you’re able, you can still offer to come clean up their living room, do the dishes one night a week, watch a little one for an afternoon, ferry a child to and from school, or whatever else they might need.
It really is the greatest possible gift.