It’s tough to know how to respond when a friend or loved one gets seriously sick. We want to be supportive and say and do all the right things.
But more often than not, we stumble. Or even worse, we withdraw when they need us the most.
How to help a friend through a health crisis
These seven practical tips, devised by caregivers and hospice experts, can help keep you from fumbling the next time you find yourself in this sticky situation.
You can finally be the friend you always wanted to be in a health crisis.
1. Process emotions privately:
A serious diagnosis isn’t just scary for the patient. If that patient is someone you care about, it can be terrifying for you too.
First of all your relationship with your friend is about go through some drastic changes. And that can be tough to handle. You may even feel a little like you’re mourning your friendship.
But the angst doesn’t end there. Their health is likely to make you more aware of your own health and mortality. And that can trigger all kinds of unexpected emotions too.
Don’t beat yourself up or waste time feeling guilty. You have every right to feel the way you do. But remember now is NOT the time to lean on your ailing friend. You don’t need to force yourself to be cheerful or upbeat whenever you spend time together. But it’s also important you don’t put your friend in the position of having to comfort you when she is dealing with her own health crisis.
2. Watch your words:
Be careful you don’t accidently minimize your friend’s experience. Of course, you mean to be reassuring when you compare her situation to someone else’s you know, or start sentences with “at least.” But it can backfire and make your friend believe she doesn’t have the right to be feeling the way she does.
Try “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” or simple, “how are you feeling today?” instead.
3. Be specific:
It’s easy to say something like “if you need anything, call me!” And there’s no doubt you really mean it. But it not nearly as helpful as you mean it to be.
Put yourself in your friend’s shoes. No one likes to be a burden. And asking for help isn’t easy under the best of circumstances. So instead of making a vague, well-meaning statement, be specific about what you can do help.
Some great examples include:
- Bringing a meal in once a week
- Picking up medications
- Coordinating grocery shopping
- Doing laundry
- Organizing or being a part of a phone tree
- Coming over once a week to visit, watch movies, or simply be there
It will be much easier for your friend to take you up on your offer for help if you stick to specifics.
4. Embrace technology:
Life keeps rolling along even when someone close to you is experiencing a health crisis. But with today’s tech you can still offer support when you’re on the go and no matter how busy you get.
- When you’re at the store or the pharmacy, text your friend (or their care giver) and ask if they need you to pick something up.
- Use video chat on days you can’t make it over or when they’re not feeling up to an in-person visit.
- If online grocery shopping and delivery is available in your area, offer to help place the order and be there during the delivery window.
- Live stream events your friend would love to attend (like baby showers and birthday parties) but doesn’t feel up to
Modern technology sometime gets a bad rap. But it can also help bring us closer together.
5. Always ask first:
Being very sick is exhausting and overwhelming and a health crisis often changes things. Foods you once loved may not be tolerable. The smell of your favorite flowers might suddenly make you sick to your stomach. And even if you’ve always been the social butterfly, lagging energy levels may make you not feel like not seeing anyone at all.
The solution is simple. Call before you stop by, ask what foods they are craving before you show up with your famous casserole, and even double check before bringing over flowers or other gifts.
6. Don’t take it personally:
Sometimes the answer will be “no.” No, your friend would rather not have you visit today. Or no, she doesn’t feel up to going to see that movie today.
Be flexible. Change or cancel plans. It’s not about you. Don’t take the “no” personally. In fact, being the friend she never has to worry about saying no to could be the greatest gift you can give her.
7. Let them take the lead:
We’re all individuals and our experiences with an illness are as unique as we are. These tips aren’t hard and fast rules. The single most important thing you can do for your friend when she’s having a health crisis is to listen to her.
Chances are many people are making decisions for your friend right now including doctors, nurses and caregivers. Even her own body is bossing her around. So be the one person in her life who lets HER take the lead.
Check in regularly and, when it comes to your friendship, let her call the shots.