When a friend comes to you with the news that they’ve been diagnosed with a severe illness, it’s a heartbreaking moment as you try to figure out how to comfort or help them out of the situation. How to support your friend depends on the condition, how far away you live, how much time you have, your resources and your closeness.
Just the fact that they considered sharing the news with you means that they highly esteem your friendship. Helping your friend navigate the dark, uncertain patches of the illness can be the best thing you can do for them. How do you do it?
Understand that your friend is confused, scared, and probably the reason they shared the news with you is that they need your help. Does your friend want to talk about the condition or push it aside as you talk or do other things?
Find out if your friend wants you to be a problem solver, a shoulder to lean on or someone to help them feel normal again. As you try to figure out the best way to help your friend, consider checking the doctor’s report and if they are up to it, get online doctor assessments together. It will help you better understand their condition, enabling you to give them the best care possible.
Sometimes friends don’t know how to ask for help when they need it, therefore ask specific questions and go out of your way to offer practical solutions. For instance, when you visit them, ask if you can help clean the house, make their favourite dish or even attend to the kids.
Sometimes they will not tell you but check areas they need help. For instance, if they don’t have anyone to prepare their meals, offer to make meals that can last for a week or more, then store them in the freezer. If possible, make their favourite food to encourage them to eat more.
It can be as simple as checking in for an online doctor’s assessment, driving them to a physical appointment or doing something fun together. Consider reading a book, going for a movie or a trip when they feel better.
When you’re making plans together, it gives your friend hope and something to look forward to. It’s a distraction from the illness. As you make plans, include things your friend loves and are manageable even with the condition.
Having to spend a lot of time at home can be lonely, overwhelming and stressful. If your friend is up to it, visit them as often as possible and spend quality time with them but don’t wear them out.
Plan your visit when they’re feeling strong, and be flexible. Your friend might cancel the meeting abruptly, probably because they’re not feeling well or are not up to it. Just understand and reschedule.
When you visit, check ways to offer practical help to your friend without making them feel bad about it. For instance, you can help them dress up or make their hair, nails or anything that uplifts their self-esteem. Let them feel much better about themselves by the time the visit is over.
When talking about the future or the illness, be positive and hopeful. Always focus on the positive side of everything and do things that uplift your spirits, such as enjoying a walk on a sunny and calm day or just laughing as you watch a good movie.
However, don’t force anything, be realistic and don’t brush aside their concerns. Always follow your friend’s cues, and when they want to talk about the illness or any problems they have, be supportive, listen, and offer solutions when you can.
Celebrating special events such as birthdays can be tricky but take your friends cues. If they want a big celebration with cards, visitors and a lot of fun, go ahead and arrange the best birthday ever.
When they want some time alone away from everyone, it’s okay to acknowledge their day quietly with flowers, a card or a special message. The most important thing is to let them know you care for them and you’re always there.
Caring for a sick person is not easy. Sometimes it can be overwhelming or confusing but take each day as it comes. If possible, get a support system that encourages or enlightens you on how best to support your ailing friend.