sick friend
Relationships & Love

What Do You Do When a Loved One Becomes Chronically Ill?

Sooner or later, it happens to all of us. A beloved friend or family member develops a chronic illness, and their life changes dramatically with that diagnosis and new restrictions. Of course, we want to be there for our loved one – to say just the right thing and offer help – but the sad truth is that many people instead say nothing, for fear of saying the wrong thing. Here’s how to reach out to your friend or family member to support them when they need you most, based on the experiences of people who are chronically ill.

Don’t Say Nothing. Your loved one needs you now more than they ever have before, and your silence will be misinterpreted as not caring or abandonment.

Do Try Simple Statements of Support.  Simple words like, “I am sorry you’re going through this” or “We are thinking of you” will mean the world to your loved one and will tell them that you acknowledge the challenges they are facing and are there for them.

Don’t Offer To Help Without Specifics. Most people who are used to being independent and self-reliant find it very hard to ask for help when they become ill, no matter how much they need it. General offers of “Let me know if I can do anything to help” will rarely get a response, even if your friend desperately needs help.

Do Help in Specific Ways. Call your family member and tell her you are going to the grocery store anyway and ask what you can pick up for her. Bring a prepared meal to your friend’s house, so she doesn’t have to worry about cooking (just call early in the day so she can plan ahead). Offer to come by on a Saturday (perhaps with help) and clean her house. If your loved one has children, the best thing you can do is pick them up to take them out somewhere – the kids need the fun & time away from the illness and your loved one needs rest.

Don’t Offer Unsolicited Advice. Your loved one has medical professionals for treatment advice. Even when your intentions are good, unsolicited suggestions are often misconstrued. Telling your friend that your brother’s wife’s second cousin was miraculously cured by XYZ Is not helpful because every case is unique. When I first became ill with a serious immune disorder, I heard things like “you should take vitamins,” and “just get outside more.” These well-meaning suggestions made me feel like my loved ones didn’t understand the severity of my illness.

Do Pass Along Scientific Studies (But Not Too Often). The exception is if you come across a new study that is completely relevant to your loved one’s condition – perhaps a new treatment or research that helps unravel the mysteries behind a disease. Then, do send a link or print a page for your friend or family member to share with his doctor. When a new study was recently published about my illness, I was very touched when several healthy friends sent me links. It showed me that they understood and cared. Just don’t inundate your sick friend with too much information.