Ways To Help A Sick Friend

Here are some suggestions from someone who has both helped and been helped. Thank goodness for friends!


Your friend is nursing a broken limb, recovering from surgery or going through cancer treatments. You want to help, but aren’t sure what to do.

Here are 7 suggestions from someone who has both helped and been helped. Thank goodness for friends!

Provide light entertainment

Drop off magazines full of celebrity news, those silly magazines we all read while waiting at the dentist’s office or in line at the grocery.

This is no time to show up with in-depth articles, serious tomes or recent research reports on your friend’s illness or treatment. Our powers of concentration often are dimmed during illness, so purposefully provide news your friend can’t use, news that may instead inspire a good laugh.

Encourage your friend to accept reality

Now and then we all need permission to acknowledge that right now we can’t do everything we usually do, that business as usual will have to wait.

So many of us have trouble asking for help because we think that is a sign of weakness. Not only will we not ask others for help, we often are less than forgiving with ourselves.

Tell your friend that what’s going on now is only that, and won’t be going on forever. It’s difficult to get any perspective on the present, and besides, healing takes time. Suggest your friend take the long view and embrace resting — or at least cutting back now — in the hope of a quicker recovery.

Sit with your friend

And don’t just sit. Be willing to listen attentively if your friend wants to vent or express feelings of fear about the future, or feelings that he or she is reluctant to share with a spouse or partner.

Laugh when the opportunity presents itself

Laugh when the opportunity presents itself

Offer to take on specific tasks

Your friend can accept or reject any suggestion, but do go beyond “Let me know if I can do anything,” which is frustratingly vague.

If your friend has not determined what would be helpful, whip out your smartphone (or even a pen) and brainstorm together about what needs doing. Possible tasks include pet care, bill paying, plant tending, picking up medication refills, calling out-of-state friends so they can join the support team, ATM runs, catching up on laundry and arranging transport for future treatments.

Once a list is available, your friend will be ready with an answer the next time someone asks if he or she can do “anything.”

Send cheery notes

Once a week, rely on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver a card or a postcard. People stuck in the house rejoice when a personal communication arrives that can be read and reread at leisure.

The note doesn’t need to be long. You can go with the standard but comforting: “Thinking of you.” Or, if it’s true, you can write: “Every day you will be a little better.”

If that doesn’t apply, forget about a note and send a “Cancer Sucks” button or a fridge magnet that reads, “If you’re going through hell, keep going,” which is attributed to Winston Churchill. Both are available online. you can also send your friend funny get well soon messages.

Bring chatty reports to your friend’s bedside

OK, we’re talking local gossip, but of the non-malicious kind. Even better, sit together and stream or watch a DVD of a meaty TV show and then gossip about the characters.

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