Helping a Friend through Illness

Two friends sitting by the river. One of them leaning on the other because they are helping a friend through illness.

Contributed by Tiffany Silverberg

Helping a friend through illness is something many of us face numerous times throughout our lives. When our friends start to feel unwell or receive a diagnosis, our first instinct is to help. Many of us don’t qualify as medical professionals and thus feel at a loss as to how best to help. Here are a few ideas to get you started the next time you hear of a friend or loved one affected by an illness.

Assessing Needs

The first thing to do when helping a friend through illness is to get a handle on exactly what they need. This gives you a starting point in developing a plan to help. If you are particularly close to this friend, you may instinctively have a sense of their needs. Think about their day to day routines. What activities will they be unable to do? What chores can go on the back burner and which ones can you help with now? Also consider their responsibilities. Are they raising kids or caring for aging parents? What help could you provide to keep carpools running and appointments being met? Of course, everyone has to eat so the simplest place to start is probably providing a meal or two. Fill their freezer with a couple homemade favorites that they can heat up and serve when needed.


Getting Information

If you are not as close to this friend and are unsure of his or her needs, you may need to do a little bit of research. It’s best to avoid asking your friend, the patient, the vague question “How can I help?” This gives them yet another responsibility – deciding what they can assign to you. They may not be sure what you want or can do to help. Don’t give them another thing to think or worry about. Offer specific help instead – such as a hot dinner that you will bring over next Tuesday by 4pm. Remember the last time you were sick and think about what helped you during that time. If you aren’t sure where to start, talk with a family member of your friend. A spouse, child, sibling or parent may know exactly how you might be able to help and may even be coordinating meals, errands, and other help.


Today and Tomorrow

Depending on the diagnosis and specific illness, helping a friend may be a short-term or long-term activity. You likely may not have a day on the calendar when a full recovery will happen. You may want to volunteer to be a coordinator and set up a Lotsa Community for your friend. This relatively simple step can help you organize meals and let’s your friend see at a glance what has already been planned. Taking this weight off her shoulders will help her rest more peacefully and recuperate faster.


Positivity and Focus

However you decide to help, focus on the positive. Keeping spirits up as days drudge on toward healing can be a critical way of helping a friend through illness. If his or her immune system can afford it, make sure your friend receives plenty of Well Wishes, visitors, and afternoons of chatting to ward away loneliness. Bring favorite movies, books, magazines, and other entertainment to keep the laughter flowing. You may even want to surprise her with flowers or little treats along the way.


Helping Those Around

Particularly if your friend is dealing with a long-term illness, his or her closest loved ones may have to step up to be caregivers. The Caregiver Action Network recommends that caregivers of all kinds make respite a top priority.  Sometimes the best way you can help a friend is by helping those who help him or her. Offer to sit with your friend, drive to appointments, or take care of daily chores so the caregiver can take an afternoon “off” or reserve a moment to do something they love.