I have been a teacher in the sunny state of Florida since 1994.My first class was a group of incredible 5th grade students in a Drop-out Prevention program. Now I teach gifted second graders, who also teach me a thing or two each day.
As some of you know, I recently lost my father in law after a long battle with cancer. His last week or so was spent in a beautiful hospice facility and we are so grateful for the care he received and the kindness and support of family and friends we were shown during that time. Now that it's been a couple of weeks, I've had some time to process the whole thing and I've had some thoughts about ways that I could support a friend should they find themselves in this position.
I need to be clear that I never once felt abandoned by my friends or extended family. I was not sitting in the hospital or hospice wishing that someone would do the things I'm writing about, they are just things I wanted to make note of in order to make this process a bit easier on someone else going through it, because the truth is when you are in the middle of a crisis like this and someone asks "What can I do?" you often have no idea what to say. Looking back I actually did need things done, I needed a few things from the store, I could have used help with errands and household chores but when someone asked me if I needed anything, all I could think was that I wanted a miracle. I wanted dad to wake up. I wanted him to share a meal with us again. Have a laugh. See his blue eyes smile when he saw me walk into the room. That's what I wanted. My mind was so clouded with grief and sadness that I wasn't thinking of groceries, paying bills, or laundry. So I've gathered some ideas here to keep in mind if you have a friend spending long hours at the bedside of a sick loved one. If you have more ideas, please share them in the comments!
Texts or calls from friends and extended family helped so much. Just knowing that others were praying for us and sending us good vibes made us feel cared about and loved. Don't be upset if texts or calls are not returned. Often, things were super quiet and calm in hospice and I didn't want to shatter that peace. I was often physically and emotionally drained and couldn't imagine carrying on a conversation, but sometimes I really did want to talk and just get it out. Just know that even a quick message or text saying "thinking of you" could be the boost a friend needs to make it a little while longer. As for actual visits, just ask. There were times I would have loved a friend to visit, other times not so much. One thing for sure, I would recommend not just showing up. Things can vary from hour to hour. At times my father in law was sleeping so peacefully and at other times he was actually moaning in pain. Sometimes visitors were a welcome distraction, other times well-meaning visitors felt like an intrusion. Our sleeping patterns were all thrown off too, so we sometimes would doze off in the middle of the afternoon or right around dinnertime. It's a weird, emotional time for everyone. Just ask and don't take anything personally if a friend would rather not have a visitor.
We were lucky that the hospice center was near some fabulous restaurants, both quick and full service. We could quite literally run across the street and get a meal to bring back. There were a few times when the nurses would urge us to actually leave and go sit down to a nice meal. It was hard to do that, but we did a couple of times. When you are spending so much time at a hospice, meals become a real source of comfort and normalcy. We would bring back meals to eat with my mother in law and the three of us would sit at the table together in dad's room and have dinner together. Sometimes we would eat in the family room of the hospice, but the simple act of sitting at a table and sharing a meal as we have done so many times in the past definitely felt comforting but it also got to be quite expensive. Eating out or grabbing a quick bite three times a day plus coffee runs adds up. Find out where the hospice is and use a delivery service like Postmates, Uber Eats, or Delivery Dudes to send over a meal. Just text your friend and say "I'm sending dinner, would you guys rather have burgers, pizza, or Italian?" Then make an executive decision. Order some dishes that most people would probably enjoy and send it to them. Most of the time, your friends are not going to enjoy a meal with their usual love of food but they will be so grateful for your thoughtfulness that they will be happy with whatever you send. You could always be more specific and say "I'm sending dinner from Carrabbas, how does chicken parm sound? Would you rather have some spaghetti and meatballs? maybe a salad?" If you know several friends want to help, check out Meal Train. Friends and family can sign up for particular days so you know your friend will have meals on a regular basis.
Looking back, I can think of a few things that would have provided a sense of comfort had they shown up in a gift bag or special delivery.
• Fuzzy Socks - We would often slip off our shoes and try to get comfy on the couch or recliner. Standing up quickly to check on dad or making a quick trip to the bathroom or nurses station would have been a lot faster and more comfortable if I was wearing a nice pair of socks, maybe even the kind with little rubber strips on the bottom. Every night when we left, I would say "tomorrow I'm bringing socks" and of course, every day I forgot. If a friend showed up with a pair of comfy fuzzy socks, I probably would have cried. Well, I was kind of always crying, but still...
• Essential Oils - I'm not a huge believer that essential oils actually heal an illness, but I do enjoy their scent. If you've spent time in a hospital or hospice, there is a very distinct smell that permeates the air. It's not altogether appropriate to take out a can of room spray or perfume, but a dab of an essential oil on a pillow or even my wrist would have brought a sense of home and calm. I love the Now brand that you can get at Whole Foods. Amazon has them too, Jasmine is my favorite because it smells more like gardenia. Lavender, peppermint, and vanilla are also good choices. I actually have lavender in a roller-ball that I use for migraines, which would have been nice to throw in my purse.
• Eye Mask - a satin eye mask to keep out the light is a great idea. Trying to rest in a room with florescent lighting is not easy. An eye mask would have really helped. A cooling eye mask like this one would really be great to help soothe eyes that are swollen from crying. Throw some Visine in there for good measure.
• Cozy Blanket or Wrap - The hospice would give us as many blankets at we needed, but they were heavy and scratchy. I remember wrapping one around my mother in laws shoulders wishing it was softer, but of course I never remembered to grab a better one from home. A wrap like this would be a great choice because you can leave it wrapped around you when walking through other parts of the hospice.
• Hygiene Essentials - There were days we would be at the hospice from 7AM to midnight. I'm not ashamed to say that I would often just plop down in bed without showering. In the morning, we just wanted to get back there, so I didn't want to take time to shower or do my hair. Long days in the hospice mean you may want to remove your make up at some point or just freshen up. Some helpful product ideas: dry shampoo, deodorant, small hairspray, make up remover wipes, hand lotion, lip balm, travel size toothpaste, toothbrush, gum, mints, waterproof mascara, clear nail polish, emery board, tweezers. Something a little luxe, like a hydrating facial spray would have been nice too.
• Electronic Devices - If you know the kind of phone your friend has, consider a portable charger or earbuds. I have both of those things, but sometimes I would forget to bring them with me or leave them in a different bag. Sometimes my husband or mother in law would need them. I would have loved to have an extra set to keep in the car or leave at the hospice so I always had a spare.
• Snacks - Seems like a no-brainer, but a nice mix of salty and sweet treats would be welcomed by most people. Individually wrapped crackers or cookies or small bags of chips might be best. Fruit, nuts, chocolates...the usual yummies would be lovely to have in the room. Even if your friend is not a "snacker" it's nice to have something to offer other visitors. One day my sister brought 2 dozen donuts, a huge box of munchkins, some croissants, and coffee cake from the bakery where she works. We left most of it in the kitchen and wrote "Enjoy! Love, The Boehm Family" and they were enjoyed by just about everyone including nurses, cleaning staff, and other families. They were completely gone by the next morning. I loved the feeling that we were able to give other people a little treat in the midst of their sadness or their long work day (or night!).
Navigating through our hospital to hospice journey and all that that entails left little time for our real life. I was so blessed by my friend who teaches in the adjoining classroom. She told me no to worry about sub plans or my classroom. She offered to help my sub and make copies, etc. Not having to worry about my class was such a relief. I had a couple of other friends at school offer to help too. If you can step in and take that worry off of a friend's plate, you'll be helping them more than you can imagine.
If you feel close enough to your friend, offer to do some laundry for them. We were desperate for clean socks and undies and staying home to do laundry felt like such a waste of time. We would try to throw in a load of necessities when we got home late at night and hope to stay awake long enough to dry them. Laundry can be a little "intimate" if you don't know the person well, so maybe offer to take a load of essentials to a laundry service. Most cleaners and laundromats offer regular laundry service. Tell your friend to leave a laundry bag on their porch or in their garage and you can pick it up, drop it off at the cleaners and return fresh clean laundry.
Help with the house chores. Your friend may feel strange having you clean their house. If that's the case, tell them you're sending over a cleaning service. I would have loved this more than I can say. Many times people like to receive visitors at their home after a loved one passes and the thought of trying to get it cleaned up after weeks of neglect while you are grieving and planning a funeral is beyond overwhelming.
Offer to do the running around. The whole time we were at hospice, my mother in law's favorite watch needed a battery and she had some things in the dry cleaner that she was worried about. It would have been a huge relief to her if someone offered to take care of those things. You might think, who the heck would be worried about those things during that time? Trust me, I thought the same. But the mind works in mysterious ways. I think it reaches our for normalcy in times of crisis. Maybe focusing on those un-done tasks is a way to keep yourself from being completely swallowed in grief.
Another great way to help is to get some food in the house. There we times we just needed coffee, or cream, cereal - some staples to keep us going. Going to the store to pick up those things felt monumental. Offer to pick up groceries or use a delivery service like InstaCart to send basic groceries to their house. Just be sure to schedule the delivery for when you know they'll be home.
We all know it's not what you say, it's how you say it. I alluded to this earlier, but be direct and specific when offering your help. Instead of saying "I'm here if you need anything", say "Can I send my landscaper over this week?" or "When's a good time to have groceries delivered?". If someone asked me "When can we send a cleaning service to handle some chores for you?" I would have definitely picked a day! But there's no way I would have answered "How can I help?" with "Hey, can you clean my house?". When you are direct and specific, the person you are helping knows that you are comfortable with the offer. If you offer to do laundry or have it done, your friend will know that you are ok with the time that would take and the financial commitment you are offering.
Just one friend making a kind gesture like this can make all the difference for a friend who is going through one of the hardest things you can imagine. Putting these ideas out there and possibly making this time a little easier for someone makes me feel like maybe a tiny little drop of goodness can come from our great loss.
Until next time, my friends, be kind to each other.
A few days ago I bared my bloggy soul and explained a bit about why this little corner of the internet has been sorely neglected. Thank you SO much to everyone who reached out with kindness and understanding. It felt great to be back in touch. One sweet reader told me that SunnyDays was the first teacher blog she ever read and she was glad to see me back. That was touching. And it inspired me to continue on with my ideas for the future of this blog.
So what lies ahead? I've toyed with the idea of removing the "Second Grade" part of the title and just making it The SunnyDays Blog. That would kind of remove the expectation that every post would be teaching related. My problem with that is most posts would surely be teaching related. And if I'm not going to write about teaching what will I write about? This is the struggle. I don't want to lose my identity as a teacher blogger, but I want to write about things other than just teaching.
I certainly don't fit the mold of a "lifestyle blogger" or social media influencer. I'm not an outfit of the day girl, I have selfie-phobia, I don't have my own children to dress in coordinating outfits with ruffly butts and big ol' bows, which I think is too stinkin' cute, btw. My house is cozy, but very lived in. However, I do have a Rae Dunn mug that someone gifted me which makes me feel super trendy!
So if I'm not those things, what am I? I don't think there's a title for what I want to be, other than just myself. I just want to be a teacher who sometimes shares craft projects, book reviews, gift ideas, life advice, funny stories, my Teachers Pay Teachers products, and other teaching tips.
When I'm blogging regularly, I'm often asked to review products and share my thoughts with my readers. In the past, I would turn down many of these offers because they didn't fit my blog. But often that meant I was turning down the chance to try out a cool product, give one away, or at the very least offer a decent coupon code. You'll notice that I don't have ads on my blog and I never have. Again, I just didn't feel it was right for my blog even though they never bothered me on other blogs.
So really, I just want to break free of the self-imposed restrictions surrounding my blog content. I want to be an unofficial lifestyle blogger and unsolicited advice giver. I want to share my love-language of gift giving. I want to bring you along on my quest to find the perfect sweet tea and French macaron. I want to tell funny stories about my class and write about things that make me feel all the feels.
I also want to represent products that I believe in, from educational games and teacher tools to comfy shoes and jewelry. I just want to be me and chat with you, like I would with a friend. I'd love to know what else you'd like to read about. I've got a lot of life experience. I've faced loss and learned how to move forward. I have 25 years of teaching experience across different grade levels and special programs. I've been married to the love of my life for almost 20 years. I'm a sister, a friend, an aunt, a daughter without parents. I'm a class pet advocate - I'm crazy in love with a guinea pig, which was a totally unsuspected twist of fate. I have a little hamster too. And hermit crabs are moving in soon. (I can't help it! #smallanimalsareunderrated I'm a crafter. I even used to have an ETSY shop. I do a lot of online shopping to find cute-ish clothes to fit my short and curvy plus size self. The point is, I'm more than just teaching ideas and I'd love to share all of me with you here through this blog and social media.
Tomorrow will be my first foray into this new territory as I share something that is very personal to me - how to help a friend who has a loved one in hospice care. It's a topic I'm very passionate about, but I didn't necessarily feel it belonged on my teaching blog. You can see that this is like nothing I've written about before but it's something that unfortunately many of us will face at some point.
I'd love to really connect though comments here or on Instagram or Facebook. Shortcuts to find me are to the left, right above the four pictures that fall into the teeny tiny category on photos that don't make me cringe. Let me know what you think about all of this. I'm open to ideas and suggestions and I'm so motivated to get back to blogging!
If you have been a loyal SunnyDays reader since I started this little blog back in 2011, thank you...and I'm sorry. Thank you for for your kind comments and encouragement over the years and I'm so sorry for the serious lack of posts and half-hearted "comebacks" over the last year.
If you're new here, WELCOME! Feel free to stick around. So happy to have you.
Whether you are an old friend or a new one, I want to let you know what's been going on and what I hope for the future.
There are several reasons why I lost my blogging mojo. First of all, I think it's kind of inevitable to run out of ideas when you are blogging as a classroom teacher because many of us tend to revisit favorite ideas year after year. Yes, we may build on it, improve it, vary it in some way, but the general ideas are sometimes the same. After seven years of sharing a Pumpkin Investigation, it's hard to get up the gumption to write about it again. Of course most teachers do come up with new ideas and add fresh activities to our school year because standards and expectations are always changing. I just started to feel a little stagnant, as far as blogging goes. I hope this is coming across the way I mean it. I love teaching. I just don't love trying to make the same ideas sound fresh and new year after year.
Social media is another reason my actual blogging has been slacking. It's infinitely easier to snap a quick picture, dress it up, and voice text a comment for Instagram, as compared to taking and editing several pictures, linking and crediting sources, double checking media releases, and then writing something at least several paragraphs long to explain a project or activity. And I wonder if that also goes for blog readers? Are you still out there? Would you rather scroll through Instagram for a quick snapshot or do you still have the time and inclination to settle in and read a long blog post?
I've also been weary about turning my blog into a non-stop advertisement for my TpT products, but I really do use what I create in my classroom, so it almost becomes inevitable. And to me that feels a little disingenuous. However, TpT is something that I've poured my heart and soul into over the past 7 years. It's the business that has allowed me to help my family members who desperately needed us. It quite literally put a roof over our head when ours caved in. It keeps our 10 year old cars on the road safely and it's a large part of why I can still be a classroom teacher and haven't had to follow other better paying career opportunities. I honestly like to read other blogs that share how they use TpT products, so maybe that's not an issue. What do you think? I tend to way over-think these types of things, so maybe it's not as big an issue as I think.
Another reason is more serious and more personal. My father-in-law has been battling cancer since 2010. We had lots of ups and downs but for the most part, he faced his treatments with such bravery and courage. My husband and I live about ten minutes away from my in-laws and we are extremely close. Instead of calling a go-to couple to go out for dinner or spend the day together, we'd usually call them. We spent a lot of quality time together and a lot of time just doing mundane things together, like grocery shopping and helping them around the house. Over the past year, his treatments started to help less and less and his pain started to increase. We spent so much time grabbing on to the times when he felt well enough to get out and enjoy life and then just being there when he didn't. We spent the last few weeks watching him rapidly decline and trying desperately to help. We stayed by his side and helped support my mother in law through his last weeks in hospice care. And we're now learning to navigate this new life without him. He wasn't "just" my father in law, he stepped into my life just as I lost my own father twenty-five years ago and we bonded instantly. All of our hearts are shattered, but we're trudging along as a family. Instead of letting grief swallow me, I'm making an effort to get back to the things that I once had such a passion for, including this blog and TpT.
So, where do we go from here? I have some ideas and a new direction for this blog that has been rolling around in my brain for quite a while. I'll post that tomorrow because this is already a lot to digest. Thanks for reading, thanks for following, thanks for being a friend.