Comforting friends and family who are ill

submitted by Susan B. Apollon, Psychologist, Author,

Your family member or dear friend tells you that they have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

You want to support them but are unsure of how and what you can do. Here are some suggestions.

Quietly listen with your heart as they share what they have just learned. Please, do not pity them and don’t tell them everything will be ok.  Know that the diagnosis may have been traumatic for them.

Be fully present.

Your response can be the following: “I do not know what to say, but I feel for you and I want to be here for you in any way I can.” Ask if you can give them a hug – if they would like. Cry and laugh with them. Laughter is needed to balance our pain.

Drive them to doctors’ and treatment appointments. Run errands for them such as to the market and dry cleaner.

Drive their children to school, lessons or athletic practices and games.  Organize a meal schedule for them, so that all those who wish to help can also bring meals.

Create another schedule to provide help with their kids’ homework. Call frequently to say “Hello” and “I am thinking of you” so they know they are in your thoughts.

Let them know you will pray for them. Converse about the day-to-day life of their family and yours – rather than discussing their medical issues.

They may wish to devote time to talk with you about what they are feeling, which is fine. However, balance this with focusing on what makes life sweet and good for them.

Share with them upbeat activities of family life – theirs and yours – such as dance recitals, athletic games, movies, and cooking.

They want to feel normal. Take them to lunch or brunch. Send cards and surprise them with flowers or edible treats. Ask them when would be good times to call or visit.

They need time to rest because their treatments create fatigue.

Bottom line: treat your loved ones as you would wish to be treated if the situation were reversed – and always with compassion, love and understanding!