”Tips for Supporting People Through Illness” is a collaborative post. Please see the disclosure page for more information. Disclaimer – always verify medical information with your doctor or a professional.
At the beginning stages of an illness, supporting people through illness seems easy to do. Because it is so new initially you might read up on it and talk about with them about it often. You might be shiny and optimistic, and all of that is really important. But the longer an illness is around, the more you’ll need to shift your approach and consider the needs of your friend or family member. Keep in mind while these tips are great, they might not work for everyone, because illness impacts everyone differently.
Illness often comes with pain and exhaustion. And people in the midst of it aren’t likely to be able to keep in touch all that often. So you might want to take the lead here. The key is that you contact them on a regular basis – but don’t expect that you will get a reply. Instead, just tell your friend or family member you are around if they need anything. You might also send them something that could lift their spirits like a silly meme or funny joke or a nice card. It just takes a few seconds and could help them take their minds off of what they are having to deal with.
There are going to be times when it becomes too much for the person going through the illness. And the worst thing you can do is listen with the intent of fixing or responding. Learn how to actively listen. This means that you are tuned in and responsive to what the person is saying, without just waiting for them to stop talking. If they ask for your opinion, give it – if not? Then simply don’t! This isn’t about being silent or fixing anything, it’s just about giving them space to verbally vent when they need it.
If your friend or family members have a chemotherapy session, pulmonary therapy, or any other intense appointment – ask them if they need company. If they say no? Ask the time of the appointment and ask about getting to stop by afterwards. Turn up with a magazine, a coffee, a smile or even some warm socks. What you bring doesn’t actually matter. Showing up does.
No matter how you actually feel at specific points, don’t jump on the pity party bandwagon. Life with a long-lasting or painful illness can be very difficult. Supporting people through illness can also be difficult. If you say how sorry you feel for them, they might begin to feel less like a friend and more like a burden that people need to care for. Instead, try to always move conversation to the positive subjects. This could be something as simple at a favorite sports team doing well or talking about a favorite TV show. Keeping the spirits and positivity high can do wonders for someone. Encouragement and support is a powerful tool, so use it well.
Chronic illness isn’t just a flash in the pan. It is a long and continued battle. Which means you need to be in it for the long haul, and flexible too. The plans that you were once able to make with your friend or family member such as a spur of the moment shopping spree or a night out dancing and drinking are probably not in the cards anymore. Instead, it is perhaps movie nights or Netflix binge watching sessions. Search for classic movie lists like the best box sets on Netflix and be the snack connoisseur. And, remember that sometimes even that is too much for someone with chronic pain or disease. In that case, they might just need you to come by and sit with them for a while so they don’t feel alone. Be ready to be the friend that they need; not just the friend you think they need. And the best friend a person can be for someone facing an injury or illness is a flexible friend who is willing to help any way possible.
And finally, the best way to know what they need from you is to ask. Your friend or family member is on a rough roller coaster ride that they may never be able to get off of. Let them know you are there for them and will do your best to support them however they need.