When A Friend Has A Chronic Illness

What To Say

Chronic illness is permanent and often degenerative, requiring her to change nearly everything about her life. The emotions that accompany these changes in her life are often more difficult to cope with than the pain itself.

Be honest. Say “I wish I knew the right thing to say, but I care and I am here if you need me.”

Ask her if she’d like you to pray for her and ask what she wants you to pray about. Respect her request. Don’t pray for healing if she wants prayer for new medications.

Remind him that coping with life’s difficulties is a process and that the length of time is different for everyone. Tell him that he is coping well. Just listen. Let her share her thoughts and feelings with you and don’t say, “I understand,” if you haven’t been there yourself.

Respect where he is with his faith. If you see him struggling, be sensitive to it and don’t tell him to snap out if it, that God is still good. Pray for him silently and be patient.

Treat her as though she is still a whole person, despite her limitations. She wants to feel capable and in control. Let her make the plans.

Become somewhat educated on his illness. Ask him if he’d mind answering some of your questions. Remember, just because you’ve read a book doesn’t mean that you know how he is feeling physically or emotionally.

Don’t assume that she copes with things the same way you do. She may gain strength by alone time while being alone depresses you. Let her cope in her own way and don’t tell her she is coping in the “wrong” way.

Let him know you are thinking about him. A card or a phone call can make the difference.

What Not To Say

Avoid giving “God balm.” If you say “God will heal you” or “all things work together…” she will believe you don’t really understand and avoid sharing her feelings with you in the future.

Don’t feel compelled to share every “cure” you’ve heard of for his illness. He’s constantly bombarded with cures and he needs you to be his refuge from that.

Be aware of the fact that illness is not just a matter of attitude. Don’t say, “When are you going to get rid of that cane?” or “Did you know illness is caused by stress?”

Respect her limitations and be sensitive to them. Don’t say, “A little walk might do you some good” or “No pain, no gain!” Only she knows her limits and they will likely change from day to day depending on many factors. What she could do yesterday may not be possible today. Don’t question that.

How To Help

Offer specific ways that you can assist your friend. Say “I am going to the drug store. Can I pick something up for you?” Look around her home and see where your friend might need some help. Does the shower need scrubbed? The leaves raked? The carpet shampooed. Offer to take care of these things.

Volunteer to pick up some groceries rather than do the cooking. Many times people with illnesses have restrictive diets, so they may prefer some fresh fruits and vegetables than a casserole. Ask what meals he is eating and then freeze some of these for him to have on hand.

Accompany her to places where she may need some assistance. Get your haircut at the same time, or have the oil changed in her car while you are eating lunch. Bring an uplifting personal little gift when you come to visit: some fresh cut roses, a new book, a funny movie, some cookies for the children, a blanket, potpourri to make the house smell good.

Remember that one’s spouse and children have needs too and these often concern your friend. Take the children out for awhile so s/he can get some rest. Plan something special for the children and before you drop them off at the house, pick up a small “something” that will make their parent smile like some fresh flowers.

Ask your friend what her concerns are and how you can address them. One woman who was ill said that she would like for a friend to make sure her children made it to Sunday School and church when she couldn’t go.

Ask the person’s spouse how you can help the family. One spouse was appreciative of gift certificates to the local fast food restaurants so that the children could occasionally have a quick meal and his wife didn’t have to worry about making dinner.

This article adapted from “When a Friend Has a Chronic Illness” brochure distributed by Rest Ministries. Copyright 2001, Rest Ministries, Inc. You can print this brochure to distribute.

Lisa Copen is the founder and director of Rest Ministries. She lives with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia and is the author of When Chronic Illness Enters Your Life Bible Study.

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