It’s a rare set of parents that have not walked through at least a part of the valley of the shadow of death (literally or figuratively) with their children. From the moment you get the diagnosis, the phone call, see it unfold in slow motion before your eyes, hear the crash and count the seconds of the delayed reaction, or see the blood, these can be dark, terrifying times. Our second and fourth children spent time in the neonatal ICU. It was five days in once case, and five gut wrenching weeks in the other. We would not have those days back for a Kings ransom. And we can count many of our friends and relatives who have suffered far, far worse.
How do you cope when one of your children is plunged into a serious crisis?
Short answer: GET HELP
1. If you have a church family, call in the news to a trusted “point guard” as soon as your family is alerted. Later you will marvel at how a church body can deliver when it counts.
2. Seek personal support of a trusted friend or relative. During an ongoing crisis, you may not see much of your spouse. Forget that macho crap, when it’s your kid in the hospital, sometimes you will just need to unload. And it may not be pretty.
3. Prioritize, survive, and accept lowered expectations with respect to home and yard maintenance until the worst is past.
4. Do the little things, particularly for your wife. It will make a huge difference.
5. Cull unnecessary activities. This will happen regardless, but take some time to intentionally strip down the list.
6. Attempt to keep some sense of normality and routine for any siblings. That can be tough. Use age-appropriate information to keep them updated.
7. Accept help. “Angel Strangers” are a godsend for an overwhelmed Dad. That’s Dad U’s term for folks who spot distress (ie feeding upset siblings in the hospital cafe), and spontaneously offer a helping hand. Such moments brighten despair and come straight from Heaven.
8. On the other hand, don’t cede responsibility for managing your family where you don’t need to, and accept help on workable terms. (eg an assertive relative in your home may be fantastic for a week, but not so beneficial for a month).
I’m sorry if this next statement sounds trite, it’s not supposed to. A medical situation is usually not as bad as it seems at the time. “Our” five weeks in the NICU were easily the most stressful of our lives. However our premature baby was never in a serious life-threatening situation. Several surgeries, a feed line to the heart, an incubator/oxygenator, overly conservative prognostications, and not being able to hold her just made it feel that way. I cannot pretend to imagine the pain of losing a child and won’t trivialize such tragedy by addressing it here.
I have two final suggestions for dealing with crises
1. Celebrate recovery when they come back home
2. Use these stories to teach your kids about friends and family, stress and crisis, life and death and eternity.