Jill Viggiano - “If there is anything I can do....”
Jill Viggiano spent 19 years working in commercial real estate before retiring. An active volunteer, Jill couldn’t help but raise her hand and take on leadership roles in the community. The opportunity to form and advance philanthropic organizations and their causes kept her engaged in both local and national efforts. Jill’s style is to create a team environment where cooperation and accomplishment happen while having fun. When her husband survived a massive stroke in 2008, Jill focused her skills on his recovery. She
now assists him in his day-to-day needs as well as in his speaking career. Jill
wrote Painful Blessing, a book about her spouse and caregiver experience,
shedding light on the real life impact of acquired brain injury, and providing
hope and encouragement to those facing significant challenges.
We have all said it. Something terrible has happened to someone we know and
we end the conversation with “If there is anything I can do…” I am as guilty as
anyone. I have said those words and done nothing. Not for lack of desire, but
for lack of any idea of how to be helpful.
When my husband suffered a massive stroke, I learned first-hand what it is like to
be in crisis and what it is like to be on the receiving end of that comment. But I
was fortunate to see the desire to help put into thoughtful action by the people
What can you do? Here are some practical, specific ways you can support
someone who is suffering and help ease their burden:
- Set up a communication device for friends and family to keep up with what
is going on. Coming home from the hospital every day and having to retell the
day’s events 20 times on the phone is exhausting. Consider caringbridge.org or
another communication site where the caregiver can type a message and friends
and family can send messages back.
- Are there children at home? Offer to talk to the principal at their school to
alert them to the crisis. If the child is going to miss some days of school,
establish a method of communication for homework, etc. Are your kids on teams
together? Offer to take them to practices and games. Crises are hard on kids—
maybe offer a play date to give kids a break from the stress at home.
- Is this a long-term crisis? Disability insurance often takes months to
commence payments, while medical bills come immediately. Consider setting up
a bank account and spread the word that donations are welcome.
- Establish a yard work schedule. If the grass is growing, it still needs
mowing. If you and/or a group of people are able to provide this service, let the
caregiver know that you will handle the yard for a specific number of weeks/
- Establish a housecleaning schedule. Even if you can volunteer to vacuum
or clean the bathrooms on certain days, that is a huge help. For us, a group of
families got together and paid for a housekeeper to come to our house several
- Offer to run errands if needed. Be specific! “I can run your errands on
______ days. Let me know what you need.”
- Establish a meal schedule. Popping over randomly with this or that to eat
is disruptive and generally wasteful. Be the point person in establishing a meal
schedule so the caregiver can plan for food. Are meals what he/she needs?
Create a meal delivery plan with delivery times. We kept a cooler by our door
and people put the food in the cooler between 5-6pm. No one knocked on the
door unless I left a note on the cooler asking them to knock on the door so we
could talk. Do donors want the containers back? If so, they should put their
names on them. Are groceries or toiletries what he/she needs instead?
Establish a list and a delivery plan.
- Do you have some “handyman” skills? Depending on the nature of the
crisis, there may need to be some alterations at the house, such as installing
grab bars, moving furniture, etc. If this is a long-term crisis, your skills may be
greatly appreciated with general maintenance as time goes on.
- Do you have some items to lend that might be helpful? My friend lent me
an extra wheelchair left over from a knee surgery so I could have a chair upstairs
and one downstairs. How about a shower chair or a cane or even a baby
As with anything, to be truly helpful during a crisis, you should do what you say
you are going to do with no surprises. Random acts of kindness are lovely, but in
the middle of a life-changing event, help that is reliable and practical is essential.
Knowing that the day-to-day details are covered allows the caregiver to focus on
the major issues at hand.
Try to keep in mind that this is about helping people get through a difficult time,
not about receiving a formal thank you note or getting upset because you don’t
think your efforts were appreciated enough. It isn’t about you at that time. The
person you are helping fully appreciates you and your generosity—they are just
overwhelmed at the moment. Be assured, you are doing a good thing.