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Things to Give an Ill Loved One

We all wonder what to send to people when they are ill.  Flowers, while beautiful, are unfortunately temporary.  I had wonderful friends who sent me lovely flowers. It made me feel special, and it was worth every petal.  One that stands out to me in that crazy time was the Bonzai tree my friend Maria sent me.  It seemed so hopeful, like I would be around long enough to take care of that tree. And so I was.


When you are sick, all of the millions of things you do on a daily basis (you know what I mean, ladies?!) just fall by the wayside.  You can barely get out of bed, so you don’t care about the laundry, or the dust bunnies hopping by you, or the kitchen floor that’s getting bombed by the dog every day.  All you want to do is hold yourself together enough to get up and just be able to get dressed in the morning.

Below are some ideas to help ease the load of the patient or caregiver in a variety of ways.  Most people can barely do their normal routines, so why not make it a bit easier for them with the least amount of fuss?

Deliver meals for their family. Take care of the kids, the spouse or caregiver, and bring something special for the patient, like a favorite treat. Even if they aren’t able to eat it, the effort will be much appreciated.

A few generous friends gave me gift cards when I was ill.  This was great for a few reasons.  1) It gave me something to look forward to and 2) I could use it whenever I was feeling well enough, which was helpful considering the timing. Here are some useful ideas for gift cards:

Dinner – Take some cards for a favorite restaurant, or maybe one they would never usually go to, so they can celebrate a special milestone (end of treatment!) or occasion (birthdays or anniversaries) without the worry of the cost. One service for cancer patients is Meals to Heal.

Books – You know that book you are dying to read but never have the time? Give it to your friend, and read it together.  It will give them something to talk about with you other than their illness, and give you an opportunity to create something normal in their not-so-ordinary life.

Movies – Either bring a gift card for them to purchase a movie of their choice or give them an evening out at the movies for the family, including popcorn and drinks.  It can get expensive these days, so it will be a huge treat.

Clothes – Your body changes while undergoing treatment. The last thing you want to do is spend money you may not have on clothes that will fit you only temporarily.  If your friend or loved one is going to be going through treatment for awhile, try to give them some nice lounge clothes, wraps, hoodies, slippers.  My college roommate Kathi sent me some beautiful pajamas from Victoria’s Secret that made me feel pretty when I wasn’t and my friend Tanya sent some fun leopard silk pj’s that were super fab when I wasn’t feeling fab at all.  My friend Lori brought over a whole bag of gorgeous caftans which gave me something pretty to wear when people came to visit that didn’t look like pajamas. Those of us with breast cancer will obviously need new bras, and those babies are expensive.  Make a day of bra-shopping an occasion to celebrate.  If your patient is coming out of treatment, splurge on a new outfit that celebrates their new beginning.

Drugstore – Who hasn’t spent hundreds of dollars at Target just loading up on “stuff?”  You have no idea how it got into your cart but it all seems to be things you need.  Maybe you just bring a card for the pharmacy your loved one uses, and they can get their necessary prescriptions filled without worrying about the cost for once.  Or maybe it can be used for some new make-up or something fun and seasonal (Christmas antlers for the dog!).  There is something at a drugstore for everyone.

Groceries – This can go a few ways.  There are many grocery chains that deliver now, or you can try Amazon Fresh ( Just get a list of what they need and either have it delivered or go get it yourself.  This is a need that never ends, but can be so challenging in every day life, both for the patient and the caregiver.  Even after treatment ends, if the patient is trying to learn new habits of health and wellness, a little nudge in the right direction can make all the difference.

Gas – A necessity, but always an inconvenience.  If you can’t borrow your loved one’s car – or that of their caregiver – and fill it up or maybe even give it a wash, then give some gift cards they can use when they need it.  Maybe it helps the teenager of the family, or the babysitter or anyone else that is impacted by what is going on at home.
Another great idea is a journal. My friend Lisa gave me a beautiful journal, and I used it to write to my mother after she passed away.  I have used the writer’s journals my friend Samantha gave me to jot down ideas, inspirational sayings, bucket lists, the way I am feeling, you name it.  Journals are an incredibly useful tool and a welcome respite from the grind.  Afterwards, when you feel better, it is a snapshot of a time you likely don’t remember so well.

Thank you cards – These are always handy, either for the patient or the caregiver.  Some people think an email or text is appropriate to thank those who have brought over food or taken care of some errand or whatever it may be, and that’s fine if that’s all they have the time to do. But nothing is as special as a handwritten note on beautiful or funny stationary with a personal message from the person who was the recipient of a thoughtful gesture.  Take the time to thank the people who are generous with you.  The little things matter.

Give the gift of your time – Take the dog for a walk, straighten up the kitchen, have a long chat on the phone, whatever it may be, it will surely be appreciated.  Your loved one needs someone to talk to, someone to cheer them on, someone to believe that they will get better.  Take on the role of cheerleader, or sympathetic ear, or just a loving friend.

Whether they are going through the illness or coming out of it, they will never stop needing your support.  And whatever gesture you make will long be remembered as coming from a generous heart.