When someone you know and/or like and/or love has a long term illness, you may wonder a lot of things. Do they want to be bothered? Do they need help? Are they really still sick? How bad is it? Do they want to talk about it? Am I a close enough friend to get involved? Do they want me involved? I want to help…but how? I have pondered many of these questions myself when someone I know has been ill with a serious or long term illness. Now, as a card carrying member of Sick Club, I think I have some answers to share!
Every person’s case is different, but I think some things are fairly universal. Here are simple ways to help or show you care when a friend or loved one is dealing with a long term illness:
Drop a Line
In my case, it’s hard for me to talk to people sometimes, for a variety of reasons – the fatigue, the brain fog, the forgetfulness (“Hi, just returning your text…from two weeks ago!”), the dance of figuring out how much people want to know, the feeling of not having anything to talk about other than, “Yep, still sick!”
I can tell you this – any sick person would be glad to hear that you are thinking of them and wishing them well. A text, an email, a quick note in the mail – whatever works for you. Simply saying, “I know you’re going through a tough time, and I am keeping you in my thoughts,” is always a welcome sentiment, and could easily turn out to be the highlight of their day. These written forms of checking in are a great alternative to calling because they allow the person the opportunity to respond when they feel up to it.
I found out about these – Empathy Cards for Serious Illness – through a fellow Sick Club member. They are greeting cards made specifically for people with serious/long term illnesses. I love them, and think browsing through the cards gives a great idea of what sick people want to hear.
Cut Some Slack
When you’re sick for a long time, it can be very hard to keep up with the bare minimum – keeping yourself (and family) fed and in clean clothes. If they forget to follow up about something, or haven’t checked in in a while, consider cutting them some slack. Feel free to drop them a line to touch base, but understand that there are a million reasons why they may have dropped the ball or fallen short in some way, and try not to take it personally.
If you get a chance to chat with them, when you ask how they are, listen. Give them a minute to collect their thoughts and just listen. Sometimes it feels really good to vent to a empathetic ear. It’s not necessary to have advice to share (and probably preferable not to, to be honest). Simply saying, “That sounds so hard. I’m sorry you’re going through this,” is a totally appropriate response. If they give you a brief answer to “How are you?” and start to change the subject, that probably means they are not up to talking about their illness and you should take their lead. Sometimes it is wonderful to have a normal conversation, and think about anything other than being sick.
If you’re going this route – check first to see if they have dietary restrictions due to the illness itself or medication/treatment. “Are you able to eat like you used to, or do you have to follow any special diet?” is a simple, direct way to find out. Meal planning and preparation can be challenging and exhausting when ill. Dropping off a home cooked meal or snack is a wonderful idea – send an email or text to say you want to bring some food by and want to know when would be a convenient time to drop it off. A gift card to a grocery store with delivery service, or a local restaurant that delivers are great gifts. A fruit basket. A snack basket. A care package – if it’s food that’s safe for them to eat, and requires little effort to enjoy, chances are it is welcome.
Mailbox Cheer If words or food aren’t your thing (or you’re not local), sending a little something to deliver mailbox cheer is a lovely idea. No matter how small or inexpensive, everyone loves getting something other than a bill in the mail! You don’t have to worry that you are interrupting them, bothering them, or waking them up, and they get something that is sure to brighten their day.
Remember that they may be on a very long road
They are running a marathon, not a sprint. They may not even know how long they will be ill for, or they may know that they will never be better. Either way, their patience is being tested, and being patient with them in return is necessary. It is incredibly frustrating to be debilitated by an illness, it becomes even more so when others seem to be impatient about your recovery. As in any marathon there will high and low points – sometimes they may seem okay, but it will likely be temporary. You can feel pretty confident that if they are cured, or in remission, or vastly improved in some significant way – you will know about it. They will likely be very excited and happy to share the news. Until then, never assume that a good day means they are All Better.
Don’t Play Doctor
With all the information we have at our finger tips these days, you can find 3487403872867 “cures” for any illness with a quick google search. Please don’t tell someone who is seriously ill that they can be cured by exercise, optimism, essential oils, some drug imported from another country, standing on their head for an hour each day…you get the idea. Anyone with a long-term illness has likely been up to their neck in their own research, and has probably made the rounds with plenty of medical professionals in an attempt to get themselves the best care. Unless you are asked for advice or help in this arena, it is best to stay out of it.
So there you have it – go forth and be caring!