There's a lot of hurt in this world. Buckets of pain and suffering, often on the nicest people who don't deserve it. Let me tell you about this lovely woman I know. She's beautiful--not just physically gorgeous (although she's enviable on that count--tall, slim, big blue eyes, curly hair)--C is full of inner beauty brimming from a positive, loving attitude toward everyone she meets. She's always smiling. Always. Not the fake sort of smile or the required smile we give people, it's a smile that comes from a true love for other people.
C's a mom of three kids, she's the woman who steps up to be room mother at their school, pulls her shifts at concessions stands, offers you a wet wipe out of her purse in the bleachers after you spill ketchup on yourself because she's that damn prepared and organized. She cheers for your kid, and turns around after a game to tell you something great she noticed your kid do on the court/field/diamond. Her spirit is unflagging in its generosity. She'll coordinate car pools, gifts for teachers and play dates. She's gracious and kind and blesses everyone in her path with her good spirit. Her faith in God isn't saved for Sunday mornings, it's the real deal and you know it because of how she treats everyone else.
One day she starts feeling punky. The sickness sticks around and after a while she heads to the doctor. The doctor dismisses her, but she still feels crummy. Eventually she gets a second opinion and they find the cancer. The kind of cancer that aggressively attacks lady parts and hers is well advanced.
This amazing woman is a working mom with three kids and a husband who runs his own business. Knocked flat by a genetic predisposition.
What do you do for someone like that? Someone who still smiles when she sees you two weeks after her surgery and asks "How are you?"--and by golly she really means it. She's more concerned about other people than herself. She's taking the cancer in stride, she's staying positive and optimistic and praying that God's got her back and has a plan for her life and her family.
Honestly, I'd be freaking out. I'd got into panic mode and worryworryworry about my kids and all the What If scenarios. But not C. C smiles, rests in her faith and plods forward with her treatments, reassuring everyone around her that it's going to be fine.
Because it's a small town, people want to help, but because hardworking Midwesterners tend to be stoic and quiet and private, it's difficult to navigate helping them while respecting their boundaries. Everyone who knows C likes C, but she doesn't want to trouble anyone and doesn't want people prying too close. I have to say I'd be the same way. I'd hate to take people's charity, accept their help and aid. It would feel uncomfortable and awkward and totally screw with my pride. I totally understand their need for privacy.
But cancer's a tough beast to battle, and one family can't do it all alone. Here's the hopeful part of the story: in little ways, people rally to show love and support. One woman decorates C's front porch for fall with mums and gourds--that extra "mom" touch to keep things feeling normal at home. Another friend (herself a cancer survivor) drops off a bin of supplies to get C through chemo--peppermints and hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes and gum. And somebody coordinates meals using Meal Train.
Have you heard of Meal Train? It's a free online resource to coordinate meals for people in need. I've always given new moms a meal because that was the gift that meant the most to me as a new mom. I don't need another cute outfit or stuffed bear, for the love of all things holy, I just want a hot 2-3 course meal that doesn't require me to cook it or clean up afterwards! But when you bring that gift of a meal, you have to risk phoning during a nap or crying jag and schedule what you hope is a convenient time to deliver it. You hate to interrupt by calling, then you hate to interrupt with delivering. Will they want you to stay and visit, or will it be more convenient to them if you drop the food on their front stoop? You deliver it with instructions, but did you remember to ask about food allergies or sensitivities and you made them a pot roast--did they already get a pot roast from someone this week? Maybe you should have made a casserole or pasta dish--good gravy, doing a neighborly favor is difficult!
Meal Train lets you set up an account to help someone and then invite others to create an ID and log into that account. In this case, the Meal Train link was initially emailed to parents of classmates and teammates and old friends from high school. The link gets passed on and on to anyone wanting to lend a hand. The recipient logs in and gives specific perimeters--what's a good time/method for dropping off a meal, what can they eat, what foods they have to avoid. The site lets users easily find free dates and view all the "occupied" dates so C doesn't end up with five pasta meals in a row. When you sign up for your date, you type in what you plan to make and any instructions for baking/cooking and everyone on the site can see it. So easy. And then, a day before your scheduled meal date, Meal Train emails you a reminder so you don't leave C's family in a lurch.
Meal coordination for people without phone calls, confusion or hassle. It's brilliant. If you haven't tried it for a new mom or sick friend, I suggest you check it out.
Now for the part of the story where Green Girl choked up: I went online the other day to sign up for an October meal date--I figured one meal a month was a good baseline, but if they needed more frequent donations, I'd find out. To my surprise, the month was already full and in the right hand corner of the screen I could see how many people had signed up to show C and her family a little love. Over forty families and friends. Dozens of casseroles and baked dishes, brownies and salads to take the edge off daily life complicated by cancer.
It was a good reminder to look closely. There's suffering and sadness, grief and pain, but next to these things you can also find hope and love.