In May, I wrote a post entitled The Sacrifice of Rejoicing and Weeping. It was about a biblical response to those who are either suffering loss or experiencing happiness. To summarize, the biblical answer is found in Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
Writing about rejoicing and weeping got me thinking about hospital visits. Ours is a very young congregation, so most hospital visits are centered on the birth of a new baby and filled with rejoicing. A few visits, though, have been cause for weeping over the loss of a child or the fear of losing one who is very sick. Occasionally an adult in our church has been hospitalized for sickness or injury. Practically speaking, we’ve learned a few things along the way that I thought I’d share as a follow-up to my last post.
First: When in doubt, go. (But call ahead.)
Last December, while away on a marriage retreat with twelve or so other couples from church we discovered that a new family in our congregation had to call an ambulance to take their three-year-old to the hospital due to breathing difficulty. We knew they had no friends or family in the area, since they had recently moved from another state. It was late, the evening session was about to start, and the hospital was an hour and a half away.
Wanting to rejoice with fellow married couples from our church, but knowing we also needed to weep with a fearful new family in our church, we left the retreat, drove to the hospital, stayed an hour or so until their daughter was stable in the ICU, and then returned to the retreat in order to be there for the morning session. As we drove back to the retreat center that night, we were so thankful we’d chosen to go.
It’s almost always best to go and make a visit. Don’t stay home because you assume the person would rather not have visitors. Hospitals can be lonely, scary places. A quick visit from you will be a great encouragement. Don’t let yourself believe otherwise. But do call or text to let them know you’re coming or ask about a good time to stop by.
Second: Take a gift.
In the above situation, I texted the mother to ask what “treat” the little girl might like. A lollipop was her answer. It was December, though, and the closest thing I could find at a CVS late at night was a candy cane and a stuffed animal. Though not perfect, the gifts were very happily received by a little one who’d had a very rough day.
Gifts show thoughtfulness, kindness and generosity, while giving honor to the other person. My favorite gift to take to a new baby is the board book The Big Red Barn. A good gift for the newborn’s parents is whatever their hearts desire from the menu at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts.
Third: Stay to talk and pray.
Just popping in for five minutes isn’t really long enough to show concern and may inadvertently communicate that you have better things to do, so be sure to sit down and stay for a (short) while.
If it’s a new baby, ask how the labor and delivery went. (There’s usually a great story!) If it’s an illness, inquire about their health and what the doctor is recommending. And you don’t have to focus only on why they are in the hospital. Ask about their family, their work. Tell them about something going on in your life. Before you leave, hold their hand or lay your hand on their blanketed feet and pray for them.
Fourth: Leave with a plan.
Be sure to ask about how you can be of help once they are back at home. Is someone arranging meals for them? Do they need help with childcare or rides to doctor’s appointments? Having a few details will help you mobilize others to join in caring for them in an ongoing way.
So much more could be said about hospital visits, and each visit requires its own discernment and sensitivity. I pray these few practical suggestions will help you better rejoice and weep with those in your congregations and communities.
Melanie Krumrey is a pastor’s wife, serves as the women’s ministry leader at MERCYhouse church in Amherst, MA, and blogs at www.dwellabideadorn.com.