How To Help A Friend....Who's Seriously Ill

This week we're addressing several major life issues we all endure. But, what do we do if a friend goes through them? Sometimes there are "rules" to follow to help a friend in need. In Nancy Comiskey's article for O Magazine, she writes on all these areas of life. Today we address when a friend or loved battles a serious illness. As scary as it may be for us to face, our friend will need us more than ever during this time. Whether it's cancer, lupus, fibromyalgia, or another disorder or disease, these tips by psychologist Alice Chang apply to all:

  • If a friend is ill but mobile, take them out to eat every week or every other week. This will help them feel less isolated, as people who are sick often feel. If your friend is housebound, drop off food and bring by movies or audio books. Some medical treatments impair vision, so audio books will be helpful.
  • Don't stay too long during your visits. Understand your friend may get tired easily. Ask how they're feeling, how they're progressing, and how they're doing with daily living tasks (showering, laundry, cleaning, paying bills/getting mail, general errands).
  • Volunteer to do your friends laundry, clean their house, get groceries or drive them places/run errands for them. Offer to do anything they cannot do themselves.
  • Realize your friend is going to have alot of emotions, and not all of them will make sense.
  • Acknowledge major appearance changes - it's not like your friend hasn't noticed she went bald from the chemo, so there's no point in ignoring it. Chang recommends, "say, 'You have a nicely shaped head' or 'Isn't it a lot cooler?'". Remember, you're saying this to a friend, not a stranger.
  • Acknowledge some days are better than others if your friend isn't looking all that great, or feeling well.
  • Don't pretend to know how your friend feels, or stretching to try to relate to your friends feelings. Ask your friend how they feel, listen to them, and encourage them to share. This avoids the risk of you offending them or hurting their feelings by saying something that may have good intentions, but painful emotional results.

We hope we never have to face these issues, but reality can be unpleasant. Hopefully these tips will help you if you're ever in the situation of helping a friend in need. Thank you for reading.

Source: “How To Help A Friend…” By Nancy Comiskey from O’s Guide to Life; The Best of O, The Oprah Magazine p. 260-262

Written by: Tamara Wilhelm MA, LMHC, LCAC

*Tamara enjoys doing marriage counseling, individual counseling, & couples counseling  at Imagine Hope. We also specialize in family counseling, child & adolescent counseling. Imagine Hope serves the Indianapolis area, including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield & Fishers.