Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Infinite Ideas to Support Your Chronically Ill Friend or Family Member

  1. Showing empathy goes a long way “I’m so sorry you are still suffering.  If we ever make plans and you need to break them because you don’t feel well, it’s ok with me.  I understand.”
  2. Jewelry: Most women love jewelry.  Who doesn't love the little blue box from Tiffany's? Many companies make custom jewelry today and some even have specific jewelry depending on what chronic illness she may have.  It’s pretty special to know that your family member or friend acknowledges your suffering through such a kind gesture.  Every time she looks at her wrist or wears the necklace, she will feel loved by you and know you care.
  3. Last minute text to go out to a movie is always a winner.  She will know then if she thinks she has the strength to make it through a two hour show.  Always offer to pick her up so she doesn’t feel awkward asking for a ride.
  4. Group massages can be a saving grace.  Ask her if she’d be open to it and then go together.  You can plan ahead, but know she may not feel up to it that day.  Often those community massage centers have openings so you can call one hour ahead.  

5. Be compassionate, knowing that she lives in a constant and rather annoying state of making blind decisions for which there is no guarantee if she is making the right choice.   Something as simple as driving to the grocery store may affect her energy, mood or happiness. Something as small as making dinner can wipe her out for days and often she won’t know how it affect her day to day and until after she has done it.

6. Make her one fresh, one frozen meals and drop them off (ask about allergies or sensitivities or possibly a new diet she may be trying first) Pack them both in disposable containers and add a sweet note saying "These containers don't need to be returned." Often dropping off a meal, rather than sitting and chatting is a welcome gift.

7. Arrange for her children to have a play date or a sleepover at your home.   (Only offer the overnight if they have done that at your home before so you don’t put her on the spot). When calling her say “I’d like to find a time when I can have your kids come and play.  When is a good day for you?  I’ll pick them up around 11 and they will be home before bed. Does that sound good? “

8. Don't make this person into a your personal medical project. They most likely have spent hours researching their own ailments and treatment plans.  Instead ask “Is there anything I can research for you?” or “Is there a book you have been wanting to read about your mystery illness I can get for you?” or “I’m going to the library this week, any books you want me to pick up for you?” Research can be exhausting and overwhelming so asking is a kind gesture.  

9. Sometimes connecting people who get it and also suffer is helpful.  " I have an amazing friend I’d like to  introduce you to.  Would you be willing to chat with her via email or phone?  She has recently has been diagnosed with a chronic illness and feels pretty isolated.  You two may have insights to share that could be helpful?"

10. If you live nearby stop in unexpectedly and let her know you are here to wash her car or if you are super tight friends , just do it without ringing the doorbell put a little note inside for her to find the next time she must get in her car. If you live far away, research a local carwash and buy her a series of 12 washes to get her through the next year.

11. Don’t tell her “you look good?” if you really mean, I don’t believe you are really suffering from anything real.  It’s ok to compliment her by saying “you look good, I’m sorry you still feel so awful!”
12.Test results can be scary and doctor’s visits humiliating or exhausting. You can ask her, "Do you want me to come to your next doctor’s visit and take notes?  Do you want me to hang out with you the day you are expecting test results? I could come over for a couple of hours and you can rest on the couch while I read or cook you dinner?"

13. When you feel helpless about their suffering simply ask, "What do you wish people understood better about how you feel and what you are going through?"

14. If you could have one thing taken off your plate for the next year, what would it be?  Then figure out a way to fulfill it.  If it’s dinner every night, start an email thread and once a week each person brings food over on their night.  They can simply make more of what they normally make and bring it by.  Always ask about new dietary restrictions and google recipes that fit that description.  If you find enough friends (30), they could take turns once a month for a year as an act of service or kindness.  If you don’t know their contacts, ask them for their information.  Even if 7 friends, once a month, made dinner, that would be a huge burden lifted from her. If she doesn’t have a large number of friends you could have your church members sign up and drop it off in a cooler on her front porch so she doesn’t have to feel bad or awkward in front of strangers.

15. Mail her a gift card to a local restaurant so she can use it on one of her bad days.
Never, ever make her feel guilty about things that she cannot do. In fact, she probably does that to herself and it’s a living torture.  

16. Mail her your top 5 favorite movies to watch and send a note that reminds her, resting is healing and nothing to feel guilty about. If she needs to relax in the daytime, and watches a movie, this is not a luxury, it’s a necessity and her family and friends need to understand that.

17. When you finish reading a book you enjoy, bring it to her or pop it in the mail.  If she is too tired to read, ask her if you can get it for her in audio form.

18. If she does needlepoint or cross stitch buy her a kit so she has something to do other than lay around and feel miserable.

19. Ask her some time, "Would you be comfortable having your name on our prayer list at church?" Not everyone is comfortable with the healing powers of prayer and others are just really private.  It’s always good to ask first.

20. Don’t make living too far away an excuse not to show that you care.  We have google, amazon, and everything online.  Even from out of state you can order her dinner.  Order dinner from a local restaurant that either a. delivers healthy meals or b. has takeout near her home.  If she is really down and out ask her husband to pick it up instead ; or if you live nearby, just do it for them.  Just email, text or call your friend “I’d like to order dinner for you from …Duke’s Chowder House or Rice Thai Food.  What would each family member like?  What is the best time for dinner to be brought to you and if tonight isn’t good, when is a good night I can do this for you? If that never works out, just buy her a gift card so she can use it when it’s convenient.  
21. Prayer is awesome but instead of saying, "I will pray for you," which feels condescending and assuming try , "I'd like to pray for you, if that's okay?"

22. Surprise her and show up just to vacuum, or mop her floors. If that’s not something you  or she is comfortable doing ask her if you can gift her a cleaning service to come by once next month or even monthly for a year?  Sometimes it’s easier to hire the cleaning service they use at their home.  More often than not, medical bills are really high and just the gesture of paying for their cleaning is a welcome gift.

23. If you are getting together always ask, "Do you have any errands I can run for you before coming over to your house?" “I’m headed to Target, what do you need?”

24. Ask her to do spontaneous things that require minimal effort on her part.  Like popping into an art museum for ⅓ an hour, listen to a  music concert in the park with assigned seats,  or got to a movie, or even a massage.   She may be more likely to participate since in the moment she will know if it's a good day or a bad day. Planning ahead is almost impossible and people often feel so horrible to cancel plans.  They often just tough it out, but pay for it later.  If it doesn’t work out the first, second or even third time, don’t give up on her if it’s something she would really love to do.

25. It isn’t helpful to say, "Why aren't you healed yet?" She certainly doesn’t know and she would welcome being completely free of all pains, limitations or sheer exhaustion if she could.

26. If your friend used to be a regular in your book club, bunko, girls night or bible class and continuely RSVP’s no...this is time for all of you ladies to step it up.  This isn’t a simple 6 week recovery from a surgery.  This is a chronic or maybe even life-long debilitating condition and illness.  If she has always been there to celebrate with you, think about rallying the women to do something special for her once a month.  

27. Don’t say “I wish there were something I could do?”  Because there is so much you can do, near or far, and it feels empty to hear that. Set an alert on your phone, once a week or once a month to send your friend something, leave a message, mail a card, or give and act of kindness.

28. No matter what her age is, think of her as your 90 year old grandmother who tires easily and needs help around the house.  Your friend may look well, but she may feel horrible.  Stop treating her like she was her former, healthy, self, because she’s not and she is probably in need of compassion,empathy and a helping hand. You never get mad at an elderly person who needs a nap or can’t go for long walks, in fact , you often say sit here grandma or let me do that for you.  If you aren’t sure, remember she probably feels that rotten.
29. Don’t say “You need to ask for help”.  This further burdens your friend when she already probably feels pretty isolated and embarrassed by her inability to do what she used to do or what she thinks she should still be able to accomplish.  Instead, offer help, ask questions and think outside the box.  If one gesture doesn’t work out due to timing or comfort level, try something different in a few weeks.

30. For a thoughtful gift, drop off  or mail her a set of festive paper plates, napkins, and plastic silverware with a note that says “Because nobody likes doing dishes." Many shops have funny napkins like “wine goes with everything” or recycled paper so no one has to feel guilty about more paper waste.  

31. Gift her a beautiful box that you either buy or make yourself  so she can  keep her notes of encouragement and well wishes. Be sure to mail her some, because today, very few people actually write hand, written notes.  Remind her to print off sweet emails or social media posts adn add that to her treasure box.  Suggest she can open the box any time she is feeling down so she is reminded she is still appreciated and loved by many.

32. Be her voice. If you are at an event and walking or seating is an issue because of her invisible disability, ask her if she'd like you to drop her off while you park or get an easy access seat?
33. If she loves prayer you could ask her "Would you like me to find you a prayer partner from our church?" Then try and partner her with someone who she would connect with.

34. Love animals?  You can offer to take care of her animals when she is in the hospital or in recovery from a treatment.  Or you can even suggest that your animals have a playdate for the day if her animal causes her stress.
35. If her illness has a major charity already established, donate in her name or go to a walk in her name.  You can even get a team to walk with you.  Or if you aren’t sure what she is suffering from you can always ask which charity touches her heart the most and then give a donation in her honor.

36.  Chocolate and massage anyone?  If she is up to it ask her :  "What are your  top 3 guilty pleasures?" and then spoil her unexpectedly.  

37. This may seem really silly but it genuinely helps:  Hold the door open for her whereever you go. Doors these days are heavy and can cause unnecessary exertion.
38. Once in awhile just call to check on her:  "I can be the person you vent to anytime you need it. I'm here to listen anytime you need me, so I’ll check in and see if you need to vent, Ok? ."

39. Ask your church youth group  to come over and do major yard work before and after Spring, Summer, and Fall until she feels better.  This may be for a year, or a lifetime,  but the major overhaul in their yard will be a huge burden lifted not just from her, but her husband too.  He too often has a lot more on his plate due to her illness.

40. If she has a disabled parking placard and you happen to be driving, allow her to tell you where she wants you to park that day: close or far. If she's having a good day, or good hour, she may want to walk a bit. Every day is different and the added steps can be a welcome change for her. Refrain from saying you are so lucky to have this placard: what I wouldn’t do to always get great parking.  I’m sure she would give her left arm, not to feel like hell most days.
41. Forever friend: You may have to accept that her chronic illness may never, ever go away. If she has found a way to be at peace with this possibility, never suggest that she is enabling the disease to make her negative.  In fact, you will want to commend her on her courage.

42. Empty offer:  Never, ever, ever say:  "Let me know if there is anything I can do." People rarely feel comfortable saying, "Yes, my dirty laundry and while you are at it, my dishes." Instead pick something you are willing to do and then ask her permission. If she says no thank you, offer again another time.  If she says no, then maybe she is more comfortable getting a nice note in the mail with encouraging thoughts or a bouquet of flowers just because.

43. Send her flowers

44. Send her plants that filter bad air.  If she has pets, research if the plants are poisonous to the animal and avoid sending those.  

45. Buy her a basket of magazines she can thumb through when she is too tired to read and not energetic enough to watch a movie.

46. Plant a low maintenance bush that flowers where she can see it from her favorite seat in the house.

47. Never insinuate that it must be in her head. There are millions of people who are in pain with illnesses that do not have diagnosis, treatments or cures.

48. Don’t pressure her to go to an expensive medical clinic that will have all the answers unless you are willing to pay for it.  Putting her family in financial jeopardy may feel like a selfish thing for her to do and she may not have courage to spend $30,000.00 in one week to find out, they don’t know what is wrong. If you have the money to pay for this visit, by all means, treat her.  Otherwise, this is a cruel suggestion that only makes her wish she could afford it.
49. Don’t assume because she works, she is fine.  Many families depend on two incomes to survive.  She may muster up every possible ounce of energy just to keep her family from going bankrupt.  If she manages to work part-time and still provide for her family, don’t tell her how lucky she is or how you wish you could work part-time.  I guarantee if you had to suffer only one day the way she has for the past year or even decades, you would crumble and retract your ridiculous comment.  Instead, drop her a note or some flowers at work and say “I know sometimes it’s hard to keep going, I’m proud of you and the courage you show each day”
50. If you friend or family member fell ill and at first you showed some concern but time has gotten away, do something else.  More than likely she feel isolated, lonely and forgotten.  She can no longer go on hikes, or play tennis or swoosh down the mountain on skis, but she is not dead.  Call her and say I miss you!  Can we go out for tea, or can I come over to your house and sit with you?  I can weed while we talk or just sit and catch up?  A little goes a long way and you don't always have to spend money on your friend or family member to show you care. 

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