How to Support a Loved One Who Is Ill

Your dear friend tells you that she is very ill, and you are devastated…and, suddenly, after years of close friendship, you are not sure what to say or what to do.

When a loved one is ill, it is important to give her comfort and support just by listening and hearing what she is feeling and fearing. Keep in mind, that though sick, your friend or family member is still the same person, and still has the same wants and needs that she had before the onset of illness. So, it is important to respect her, meet her where she is, and treat her as normally as possible.

Here are some ways you can continue to be there for your loved one through this time of serious illness:

  • Be a good listener. By being a good listener, and just being present, you help your friend or family member feel valued, validated, and reconnected to the world through you. Simply by being there and actively listening, you are giving your friend or family member the message that she is being seen, and that she can count on you to be there for her through her ordeal… for the long haul.
  • Support your friend. You can’t really rescue anyone; all you can do is support her, be her home team, and let her know that you are there for her.
  • Keep open and honest lines of communication. By doing this, you will allow her to express her feelings freely, without resentment or suppression. Then, she can be herself with you and not have to put on a happy face. It’s more about being present for her feelings rather than filling her with platitudes. In the end, the message you want to deliver is that you’re sensitive to her situation and that you’re there for her, no matter what…and in whatever capacity you are needed.

Here are some things not to say to a loved one who is seriously ill:

  • “Everything happens for a reason.” This discounts her feelings. There’s really no way for anyone to understand the pain and suffering of someone who is sick. All you can do is be present for her, in a non-judgmental or critical way, and most importantly, to validate her feelings.
  • “I know how you’re feeling.” You really don’t. It’s hard to put yourself in another person’s place, especially where illness is concerned. Never compare yourself to your sick friend or family member…it’s not about you, and at this time, she may have neither the energy nor the strength to hear your story.
  • “This is God’s test” or “Only the good die young.” These type of statements lack sensitivity and empathy. To be empathetic when a friend or family member is ill means to have compassion and empathy not for where you are, but for where she This situation is all about her.

At the end of the day, this is a time when your friend needs you to be there for her, to be a good listener, and to support her journey. Try asking her what you can do to help. This might include helping to organize appointments, transportation, or even assist in changing living quarters or arranging for a caretaker. Remember: this is the same person you have loved and love still, so be there for her by listening closely rather than just hearing what she has to say, showing her that you will be there for her, no matter what. Remember that her actions speak louder than her words… and this is never more true than when faced with a health crisis.