Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Helping Out in a Health Crisis

Sometimes I look at the past year and wonder if all the good luck I’ve had in life is turning out to be a loan that’s been called in by the bank. Nothing bad has happened to me personally other than losing some money in the stock market, but I feel like misfortune has been getting closer to me, in the form of bad things happening to my friends and family. In addition to my father’s brain tumor and friends losing their jobs and getting divorced, I’ve had a cousin and a friend diagnosed with very serious cancers. Things were very scary for a while with both of them. Now, miraculously, things are looking pretty good. But none of this came without a cost, both emotional and financial.

Both my friend and my cousin have health insurance, one through an employer and one privately purchased as she is self-employed. But that didn’t mean their treatments were affordable. In one case, there was chemo and radiation and major surgery. In the other, there were chemo treatments, a special diet, and a lot of long-distance drives to doctors. Both had to take time off work, unpaid in at least one case. Both of these people have spouses, but neither were making much money. Both couples also had another dependent, either a child or an aging parent. What all this comes down to was that even with insurance, the illness put them in debt.

But here’s the upside to this depressing story: people helped. Both my cousin and my friend knew people who organized fund-raising events for them. They were each fortunate enough to have a lot of family and friends who could donate their talents or their services or their products or convince others to do so. In each case, a whole community came together and donated money and showed their support and love in a truly special way. They raised thousands of dollars, but it ended up being about more than just the money, somehow.

All this reminded me of an article I bookmarked months ago: Helping Out With Cash: A Delicate Art (which was an follow up to an earlier article Not Laid Off? How to Aid the Less Fortunate. Both of these articles give some excellent suggestions on how to handle the delicate issue of offering help to someone who may need it, but feel awkward about asking for it or accepting it. It’s a more and more common issue these days. I just hope my usual sphere of good fortune will return and no one else I know will need this kind of assistance!

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