As we age, there’s no way to escape the constant stream of friends and loved ones who must deal with difficult diagnoses. Whether it’s auto-immune disease, chronic pain, cancer treatment or any other challenging disease, chances are it limits our loved one’s ability to life a fully active life.
And that’s where we enter the picture with an opportunity to be of loving service.
The brutal truth is that when someone our age gets sick, we come face-to-face with our own mortality – something we desperately try to avoid as long as the prospect of death doesn’t come too close. But we’ve got to set that aside if we are to be a supportive friend or family member.
Not everyone can do that – just ask the many sick people who have seen friends and family disappear when the going gets tough. Often, it’s because others simply can not face what a peer’s serious illness might imply. Looking past ourselves is the only way to be there for another in their time of need.
If you were good friends in health, you can still be close when they’re not well.
Most of us hate asking for help, and if someone says, “Let me know if you need anything,” chances are we won’t ask.
So offer something solid: “I’m going to the grocery store, can I pick up a few things for you? Or run another errand?” “Can I take you to a doctor’s appointment?” “Would you like company during your next infusion treatment?”
Many people really would appreciate a visit from a friend. Others might be too sick, but for those who aren’t, a visit can be a bright spot. Be prepared for small talk – or deep talk. Keep it light, but don’t shy away if your friend wants to vent. They may have been holding their feelings in for a long time.
Share a cup of tea and even better – bring it. Two lovely teacups – check the thrift shop – and some tea make a sweet gift.
If it’s appropriate, suggest the two of you watch a movie together – an old classic, a romantic contemporary TV movie – something you can do together that isn’t stressful.
And bring something! Flowers, something you’ve baked, a casserole, a pretty scarf – something tangible to let your loved one know you care. Don’t forget to check any dietary restrictions in advance.
Snail-mail is special these days, and everyone loves getting a thoughtful card with a little note. Not every sick person checks email or social media regularly. But U.S. mail arrives regularly.
Visit the dollar store for lovely – and inexpensive – cards. If you live far away and don’t have regular contact, a newsy letter enclosed in a card can be a real spirit lifter.
Text messages are not a substitute for a phone call. Calls are far more personal. But in between calls, it’s nice to send an appropriate image and a short ‘thinking of you’ note via text.
Whether you live near or far, a care package is a wonderful way to show someone you are thinking of them. Make it up yourself with your own baked goods, a book you think they’ll like, and other little goodies. Nothing expensive – just thoughtful.
Maybe someone in the family has been caring for their sick loved one since diagnosis. It’s nice to give that person a break. If you have that kind of close relationship with your loved one, offer to spend an entire afternoon so the caregiver can have a break.
St. Francis of Assisi was right when he said, “For it is in giving that we receive.”
Do you have a friend or loved one who has been diagnosed with a serious illness? What have you done to make their days easier? Do you have any tips for others in the same position? Please share your advice in the comments below!