When a breast cancer survivor friend heard about CrabbyCancerMan’s diagnosis, she sent me a note and said “Please come over for dinner. Or let me bring some over.(It’s mandatory that I offer-otherwise the Cancer Police will hunt me down.)”
While I still haven’t taken her up on this (but I hope to soon – thanks, Polly!), the offer brings me to the second category of help offered – the help that requires a little bit of management on the part of patient and caregiver.
For many people, food=love. I had the privilege of officiating a wedding joining GuppyMomma and LightMikey for which a motif of the ceremony is the joy of cooking. I think the quote from Thomas Keller explains why for so many, the first offer of aid is one of food:
There is no such thing as perfect food, and there is no miracle cure. But we wish there was, and so when we know that we can’t fix it, we want to at least make it better, and since food makes people happy, we can start by feeding those we care about.
And trust me, I wish it was that easy. I wish that friends could stop by with all kinds of comfort foods whenever they wish, and I would take a bite and it would be delicious and I would smile, and CrabbyCancerMan would take a bite and smile, and life would be good. But it doesn’t quite work that way.
When people bring us meals, we are first and foremost grateful for something home cooked that magically appears on our doorstep. Let’s be honest, this is something we all wish would happen when we are perfectly healthy and happy. How many of you have had a fight with your spouse that goes something like this:
“I’ll make anything for dinner as long as you decide.”
“I decided last night, you decide.”
“Well, I offered to cook it, so you have to decide.”
When someone brings you a meal, this problem is solved, thereby resolving easily 25% of the fights in our household.
But the second thought, after the gratitude, is “Gosh, I hope CrabbyCancerMan can eat this.” The third is “Hmm. I wonder what the ingredients are in this.” The fourth thought is: “Man, you could feed a small army for a week with this.” Fifth is: “Tupperware! I need to wash and return their Tupperware!”
So from the benefit of my experience, here are some tips if you would like to bring a meal to someone you care about:
- When you bring a friend a meal, include a note with what the dish is, what the ingredients are (especially if any are common allergy triggers), and recommendation for heating/serving instructions. Bonus points for including the recipe.
- If you are picking up pre-made goods from the grocery store (which is okay – really!), check in and see if staples such as milk, bread or OJ are needed. That offer saved me trips to the grocery store at 3am (which for a while was the only time I felt like I could go).
- If you want your Tupperware back, please label it. If you care about how it is washed, please say so . Disposable Tupperware (the kind that you get at the grocery store) makes life much, much easier on everyone if you don’t care about getting it back.
- Please keep in mind who your audience is. We so sincerely appreciate the meal, but if we’re just two people and one cat, we won’t be able to eat three 13″x9″ pans of macaroni and cheese in the next month.
- It is very kind of you to bring breakfast as well. In fact, your doing so might ensure that breakfast is actually consumed at the breakfast hour. (I know that one is not supposed to skip breakfast, but sometimes the best I can manage is an Instant Breakfast, you know?)
- Including a festive card, bouquet of flowers, or other smile producing non-edible is a great way to make the meal feel more like a special occasion (not dissimilar to the toy in the Happy Meal ™, I realize, but the gesture goes a long way).
- Molly Piper has some additional thoughts that are worth noting.
- Consider using a scheduling service such as LotsaHelpingHands, Take Them a Meal, Meal Train, or Care Calendar. We used the first one because it allowed us to also schedule other ways for friends to help – mowing our lawn, cleaning our cat’s litter box, helping with household chores, and others. When using these sites, don’t be shy about saying what you as a family do and don’t like, do and don’t want. If you are vegetarians, let your friends know. If you only eat cupcakes on even-numbered days, say so. If you have a favorite take out place, say so too.
- You may want to buy the bulk pack of disposable Tupperware at Costco or such to have on hand, and switch any meals you get into said containers and then hand the non-disposable ones right back to the kind meal preparer.
- Keep a list of who brings what, and what they made. Your patient may get a hankering for something that someone kindly brought, and if you know who it is, you can get the recipe.
- Don’t be afraid to reschedule someone if you or your patient just wants to cook for yourself. Sometimes, what the patient really wants is your meatloaf, and no one else’s will cut it. If you have time and desire to cook, it is okay to tell someone else that they are welcome to help another day (or, say thank you and freeze it for later).
- Label the containers that go in your refrigerator and freezers with the date as well – that way, when you open mystery dish, you will know what it is and how long it has been there. (Correlation: if someone offers to come over and help, consider asking them to clean out your refrigerator).