Supporting Loved Ones Who are Sick

Supporting Loved Ones Who are Sick September 2, 2013

As we get older, we know more and more people who are hospital or home-bound for a period of time for one reason or another. I would love some advice from those of you who have experience on how best to support loved ones who are seriously ill, and also on how to support their caregivers. Is there anything that is specifically helpful for people who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment? Both suggestions for hands-on help and help from afar would be helpful, since many of us do not live nearby family members or friends who are suffering.

  • Are there certain items that would be appropriate for a care package?
  • Have any books been particularly helpful either for the patient, caregiver, or loved ones?
  • Are there certain topics that you should or should not touch on in a conversation?
  • I recently found this article and thought that it was interesting. Do you agree with the author’s argument?

Many thanks in advance for your input. Mary, Comforter of the Afflicted, pray for us!

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Right now I’m going through Chemotherapy and we just brought our 6th child home from the NICU. I think that article was great, luckily we didn’t have any people who really dumped in. The only quibble I would have with the article is that I think the person’s spouse belongs in the center ring with them. My husband is suffering too and he and I still need to confide in each other. He is so directly impacted by my illness that he might was well be sick himself and is thus deserving as all the same deference as I am in this regard.

    As for what to do? Well, before I was sick and things would happen to people near me or near enough that I felt moved to involve myself through some kind of help I often wouldn’t. I didn’t hold back out of being busy or because I didn’t know what to do. I held back because I thought I would be imposing somehow. I know that sounds weird but I’m such an introvert that I thought help was some sort of obligation I was inflicting on the recipient. It’s weird I know, it’s just a neurosis I have. Anyway, when I got sick help poured in in big and little ways and every time I just felt so blessed. The love that came through whatever was offered so far overshadowed whatever the specifics of the offering were. I can’t overstate the power of that love. I can’t overstate the impact it makes on the sick person and everyone around them.

    Some specific things to offer:

    1. Offer to set up a calendar for people to bring meals. The calendar will often push introverts like me that want to help into action because it relieves them of the feeling of “intruding” by bothering the recipient with logistics.

    Another option is frozen meals. When I was diagnosed my friends who are also all mothers of many children started to set up a calendar but realized they could provide us with meals more consistently if a few of them with deep freezers collected frozen meals and dropped off a few at the beginning of the week. It was great because there weren’t people constantly coming by the house and it freed up the helpers as well.

    2. Don’t ask “How are you feeling?” to the sick person. This could be personal to me, but when people ask me that unless they are my husband, parents, or closest closest friends I feel obligated to reassure the asker that everything is ok which is exhausting. The same sentiment can be expressed as “I hope you’re alright, I’m praying for you.”.

    3. Pool money with friends/others who want to help and hire a cleaning person to come every so often. This is THE BEST thing our friends have done. A college girl comes in once a week for three hours and it has been so helpful.

    4. PRAY. I have felt myself tangibly held up by prayers throughout this experience. In some of my darkest moments where I felt I couldn’t go another moment I would get through and find out later that right then a mass was being offered, or someone had posted a prayer request for me on their blog, or friends had gotten together to say a rosary, etc. Prayer is the best help you can offer. When you get a chance send a little note letting the person know you are praying. That is the most impactful help I’ve received.

    If you want to help and don’t know what to do, pray about it and whatever you are moved to do, just do it. Even if it seems small and silly. You cannot imagine the impact you will have in even the smallest gesture.

  • Kat0427

    Nella, thank you so much for your response, all of this is so helpful. Please be assured of my prayers for you, your family, and your sweet little baby – you are undergoing a very difficult trial right now, and I pray that you continue to feel encouraged and supported by your community.
    I agree that your husband should be included in that center circle – I have always thought that those closest to the person suffering are suffering so much themselves, and it is made that much harder when they feel like they don’t have the right to be sad, in pain, angry, etc. Thank you for pointing this out.
    Thank you also for the reminder that any act of kindness, whether small or big, will be appreciated – this is good to hear. Also, it is good to know what not to say! And the suggestion to pool money for house help is great, too – meals are wonderful, but the house needs to stay put together as well!
    I’m so glad that you left a comment, and I will be praying for you and your family!

  • CW

    A few years ago my 3rd child spent the first 5 weeks of his life in the NICU. After that experience I realized that there were 2 things that were often said to us that were kind but incredibly unhelpful.

    1. “I can’t even imagine what you must be going through” People were trying to be sympathetic but after awhile this phrase got old. I couldn’t imagine going through it either but here we were. Hearing it made me feel more isolated, not more connected with others.

    2. “Let me know what I can do to help” Here I was, trying to arrange childcare so I could visit my son, trying to wrap my mind around all that was happening to my child, trying to be a mother and wife to my family, trying to be strong and brave, recovering from having given birth, worrying about all the what ifs, …. I just didn’t have it in me to articulate what others could do to help me/us.

    I wish people would have just done something, anything: Send a gift card to a grocery store, fast food restaurant, Starbucks, Amazon. Drop a meal off. Take my kids to the park, the movies, bowling alley. Offer a Mass, a rosary. Come by and fold laundry, etc…

    I would have rather had people “impose” then do nothing. Suffering can be isolating and even dropping off a gallon of milk or ice cream can feel like a lot of love.

  • Kat0427

    Yes, CW, I totally agree with #2!! When you are going through a time of suffering, your brain isn’t working properly and you just need other people to step in and do things for you. When you don’t have extended family around that is able to help, this is even more necessary!

  • Mary Alice

    When my family member was having chemotherapy, he was too ill to read, but really didn’t want to be alone with his thoughts, so a most helpful gift was a friend who brought sort of dumb vintage movies, like Benny Hill, Monty Python, totally ridiculous things but they could watch it and laugh and be distracted for a bit. Also, I don’t know what specifically to put in it, but a “chemo” care package could include Tom’s Natural Toothpaste, apparently the only one that many people can stand to use (you often get mouth sores), some Keihls lipbalm and lotions. We switched to very natural and totally unscented things, because he was so sensitive.

    If you are local and dealing with an adult who is a good friend, what about an offer to stop by and do a few loads of laundry? That is one area that gets totally out of control. If you could go by her house while she is at the treatment and change her bed to fresh linens and wash the towels, I can’t think of anything better.

  • Kat0427

    What great ideas, Mary Alice, thank you very much for sharing. I need these kinds of concrete suggestions, so I really appreciate the details!