Not home for the holidays? How you can help inpatient families

Patients in the hospital receive gifts under the lights of a Christmas tree
The whole team at Boston Children's tries to make the inpatient experience as festive as possible for patients and their families. (Michael Goderre/Boston Children's)

There’s nothing like being home for the holidays. But for families with a child in the hospital, being home might be a distant dream. As a friend or family member, you may wonder what you can do to make the holidays a little brighter.

For ideas, we turned to those who have been there before — sometimes more than once —  current and former members of the Boston Children’s Hospital Family Advisory Council. We asked these veterans of holiday hospital stays what they appreciated most.

Reach out

“Some people are nervous about reaching out to families in the hospital because they’re afraid it will disturb you, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Kouri Wright, mom of 14-year-old Timmy, who has been in and out of the hospital since birth. “Kids are still kids and need plenty of positive distractions.”

Timmy, who has been inpatient during the holidays, poses at a gala opening
Timmy at the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Gala

Kouri says Timmy especially appreciates Facetime or Skype calls from his cousins, friends, and hockey team. “Sometimes the whole hockey team gives him a quick call right before a practice, and he loves that.”

Katie Litterer, Family Partnerships coordinator at Boston Children’s, agrees. She’s  spent more than one holiday in the hospital with twin 11-year-old daughters Sophie and Maddie. “It’s always OK to reach out,” she says. “If we know you’re thinking about us, it will make us feel cared for and supported, even if we’re not in a place, emotionally, to respond or give you updates.”

Help keep holiday traditions alive

If you know the family enjoys a special holiday food or tradition, help them make it happen in the hospital. “It was nice when people brought traditional holiday foods we couldn’t get in the cafeteria,” says Brenda Allair. She’s spent several holidays in the hospital with her youngest daughter Jillian, now 18, who was born with a rare genetic condition. “Our family is French Canadian, and it’s not Christmas without meat pie.”

Jillian, who has a rare genetic condition, with her siblings in front of a Christmas tree.
Jillian, center, with siblings Kaitlin and Thomas, is spending the holidays at home this year.

Holiday cookies and other holiday treats are also appreciated, just check to make sure the child doesn’t have any food restrictions. Food items that don’t need to be stored in a refrigerator are best. Another idea is to bring the family a holiday meal to share in their child’s room or the Patient Entertainment Center.

Don’t forget siblings

When all of the focus is on the child in the hospital, other siblings may feel left out.

Triplets who received support while one was in hospital over holidays
Kira, Amaya, and Julia Stein

Stephanie Stein, Virtual Advisory Council member and mom to 11-year-old triplets, found it helpful when friends planned special activities with her daughters Amaya and Julia after school, while their sister Kira was in the hospital. “It was a nice way for them to stay busy and keep their minds off of worrying about their sister.”

Kouri says she appreciated when others offered to help siblings with homework, or give them rides to school or other activities.

Lend a hand on the home front

Having a child is in the hospital can throw a family’s home life into disarray. Helping to relieve any part of this stress can be huge.

  • Bring meals to the family at home. Meals that can be frozen are best, so the family can enjoy them when they want.
  • Help with small chores, such as bringing in the mail, watering plants, feeding or walking pets, or shoveling snow.
  • Provide a break for the parent in the hospital by staying with the child. A few minutes or hours away from the hospital can help a stressed parent recharge.
Twins who have spent holidays in the hospital sit with Santa
Maddie, left, and Sophie have spent many holidays in the hospital.

Spread a little holiday cheer

Small acts of kindness can go a long way to help families in the hospital. Here are some suggestions:

  • Gift cards. Parents say gift cards to local food establishments, coffee shops, or gas stations can help cut down on expenses while in the hospital. Gift cards to online stores can also help parents who are in the hospital with holiday shopping.
  • Parking passes. Call the parking office at 617-355-6251 between 7:00 a.m. and 4:30 to purchase parking vouchers for parents of an inpatient child. The parent can then go to the parking office to pick up the passes
  • Buy a small gift for the child. “Timmy really loved Legos when he was little, and now he appreciates iTunes gift cards so he can download a few new songs,” says Kouri. “Any kind of thing to keep them busy is helpful.

Learn more about Family Partnerships at Boston Children’s.

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