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Thursday, April 18, 2024

How to Use Tech to Support Loved Ones in Tough Times

support after a birth, surgery, or unexpected life change can make a big difference. But it’s not always easy to ask for, or coordinate, that help.

When my middle child was born, he spent five weeks in the NICU and was discharged with an uncertain future. My husband and I had full-time jobs and a toddler at home. We desperately needed help, but I didn’t know how to ask for it.

Heidi Grant, a social psychologist, speaker, and author of the book Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You, clarifies why I struggled to reach out to friends and family.

“We fear we will be rejected or told no, fear being seen as less than or weak, or fear being found out. But that’s not the case. People need to know we need help and what they can do.”

In her book, she explains that people want to help, especially when they can see they are making a difference. People are happier when they feel effective.

But even knowing that people want to help doesn’t completely solve the problem. You have to be direct and forthcoming in asking for it. Vanessa Bohns, a Cornell professor and author of You Have More Influence Than You Think explains how difficult it can be to find the right balance.

“People assume you know they are there, but they don’t know how hard it is to make the leap and ask. We think we are being explicit, direct, and clear when we are hinting at the help we need.”

Those who want to be supportive find “it’s often difficult to reach out to others who are dealing with a significant loss (of a spouse, child, home, etc.),” says Patricia O’Dell, a New Jersey-based psychotherapist specializing in grief and bereavement. “We are worried about how we come across. We wonder, ‘What should I say?’ or ‘What should I do?’”

Here are some online resources that help bridge the gap between people needing help and those wanting to give it. These sites make it simple to ask for support, whether you need practical help like meals or a way to communicate how and when you do (or don’t) want contact. All of these are free (some have add-ons that cost a nominal fee). The recipient can set them up directly, or a friend or family member can do it for them.

Caring Bridge

CaringBridge makes it easy to communicate health news to family and friends, and to keep that information all in one place. “Caring Bridge can be a crisis entry point,” explains CEO Tia Newcomer.

“Sona Mehring had the idea for the site when she needed to share news about a good friend’s premature baby. Instead of making dozens of emotional and time-consuming phone calls, she created a website—and CaringBridge was born.” The nonprofit has now been around for 25 years (seven years longer than Facebook).

The website prompts the user to share news through journal entries and photos.

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“Processing events and receiving positive feedback from loved ones—even with just a response of an emoji—can make someone feel calmer, less anxious, and more supported during chaotic times,” Newcomer says.

Then the user can map out help requests on a calendar to get much-needed support from family and friends. They can choose the degree of privacy they are most comfortable with and can create requests for meals, transportation, errands, visits, childcare, and pet care.

There are direct links to sites like GoFundMe to raise money; Meal Train to create a calendar of meal deliveries from friends or other people willing to help; and Shipt, which coordinates shopping for groceries, household products, and other items.

There is also a free app (for iPhone and Android) for easy access on the go. Newcomer says, “it’s all about connecting from the inner circle all the way out.”

Meal Train

Meal Train, created out of Burlington, Vermont, in 2010, organizes the delivery of meals for a friend or neighbor after a birth, surgery, or illness.

An online video tutorial takes the person setting up a page (usually a friend of the individual or family needing support) through the process. You can choose to block off dates when the recipient needs a fully prepared meal or groceries like milk, bread, and eggs—an option that would have been handy when my daughter needed snacks or milk and I was rushing back and forth to the NICU.

The creator of Meal Train, Michael Laramee, says, “It is so hard to ask for help, and culturally we want to show the world we are strong and resilient, so we turn down offers of support. By saying yes to just one offer of support (the organizer friend), you can then allow others to be there for you in the most helpful ways.”

Give InKind

Give InKind was created by Laura Malcolm and her husband James after their daughter Layla was stillborn and is designed to help others through challenging moments.

The service allows you, or an organizer on your behalf, to request meals, transportation, or childcare, and even lets you set up custom requests for help. You can also create a wish list for gift cards or other needed items or collect donations through GoFundMe or PayPal.

There are options to set up privacy preferences indicating whether you are accepting calls, texts, flowers, or visitors. I would have loved this function early on in my son’s life. It would have made it easier to slowly open up my world when my initial reaction was to push others away.

The site also makes it easy to include a link to an Amazon Wishlist or send a premade gift box.

Lotsa Helping Hands

Lotsa Helping Hands managing director Matt McCabe explains that “our health care system doesn’t survive without informal caregivers” or some way for them to coordinate. “Our site is a tool to help people organize care,” he continues. “You’re posting a need, and other people can raise their hands and offer a task.”

As on the other sites, there is a place for well-wishes, announcements, and a photo gallery, but the most useful feature is the care calendar. The caregiving community can easily see which tasks are unfulfilled and which a caregiver has signed up to complete. They can receive reminders in whatever method they prefer (email, text, etc.) so the job gets done.

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Most people using the site are caregivers, like new parents or a wife taking care of a huband recovering from surgery, but this resource can also be used to organize community-based volunteer opportunities (i.e., churches, synagogues, schools, neighborhood associations, and so on).

Caring Village

Caring Village is focused on elder care, but the platform also supports those with chronic conditions and/or disabilities. The site creates a “village” where caregivers can coordinate time and resources.

Options like a customized to-do list, central calendar, medication list, and document storage make it easy for multiple people to coordinate the care of one person. The site also offers articles about financial and estate planning, caregiving, and accessibility, along with checklists for doctor’s visits and reviews for caregiving products.

Founder Ron Novak says, “More often than not, families are thrust into caregiver roles with little warning or preparation. We wanted to create a way for families to efficiently organize and manage care for their loved ones through our free caregiving platform while also providing them with information on products and resources to make the journey less stressful.”

Once any of these pages is set up, just click a button to share it through email, text, or social media.

These sources would have been helpful at many times in my life—when my son was in the NICU, while I was navigating my way back to work, when I resigned and managed three little kids at home, when my son had surgeries, and even on weeks when he had a lot of doctor and therapy appointments. A hot meal, groceries, or even just an encouraging emoji from a friend would have made our lives easier and helped us feel more connected to our loved ones and our community.

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