What do you say when a friend or loved one receives a potentially devastating diagnosis? You probably have no idea, right? It is a common human reaction, this feeling of not knowing what to say. You don’t want to offend, but you want to let the person know that you care. Honestly, everyone has their own reaction and sensitivities to these types of situations. From my own experience, the overwhelming love and support I received from my friends and family made all the difference.
It can be as simple as saying, “I want you to know that I am here for you, and I am willing to do whatever you need to help you get through this.” Or “I love you, how can I help?” The thing is, at that time, the person in question is likely in a bit of shock themselves about the news, and certainly all of the medical decisions that need to be made can make anyone’s head spin. They could be drowning in the weeds and they may not know what they need help with at that moment.
Here are some suggestions:
Drive them to medical appointments. The patient’s significant other or parents or siblings or best friend may not be available to take them to the multitude of appointments that someone with a serious illness must attend. It is so helpful to not have to worry about getting there, particularly when they might be on serious medication that may preclude them from driving at all. On another note, it is also helpful to have someone that can take notes or remember what the doctor says, as that same medication may cloud the patient’s memory.
Run errands. Maybe you go to the market for them once a week, or pick up prescriptions, dry cleaning or pet food. All of these things in our normal every day lives that we just do, well, they are daunting when you are experiencing an illness. Even when the illness is over and they are readjusting to normal life, these details may still be things they struggle with if they are just trying to get through a normal workday again. They won’t have the energy to take care of the errands.
Do normal things. That sounds weird, but it is true. Take them to lunch, go to a movie, go shopping or go have a beer and watch the game. When you are deep in the trenches of an illness or just coming out of one, you long to just feel “normal” again. How about a nice date of something you have always done together, with no mention of the illness unless they bring it up? I promise you, it will be both refreshing for them and a memory they will fondly keep
Hire a housekeeper/gardener/handyman. Maybe you can’t afford to do this by yourself, but get a group of friends together and pitch in. Or just pay for one visit, or go do it yourself. When my mother was ill, sitting in that bed and looking around at dust on the shelves and a carpet that needed vacuumed would make her feel worse because she couldn’t do it herself. I would fly in for the weekend just to clean her house and do the laundry so she didn’t feel bad about it not getting done. That also gave my stepdad a break from taking care of her 24/7 and trying to manage everything else in the household while still trying to run his business. Every little bit helps.
Bring over food. Likely the person taking care of the patient is so consumed with that job that feeding themselves isn’t high on the list of priorities. Bring over something that can be thrown in the freezer, or make an entire meal and put it in the refrigerator. The thing about this is, don’t just do it at the beginning. Any time you can help out with food, do it, because sometimes the hardest task of the day is “What’s for dinner? and that does not change over time. My girlfriend Michelle brought over food for an army more than once to my house, and it was such a relief, for me and for my husband.
Help with rides for visitors. If someone is coming into town to visit the patient, then by all means, offer to pick them up or take them back to the airport. The caregiver cannot always leave the patient, and certainly the patient will have a hard time driving, even if it is a short distance. On one of my visits home to see my mom, who had just been admitted to the hospital, my girlfriend Jil picked me up at the airport with a bag full of food and beverages, so I didn’t have to leave the hospital room at all. And I didn’t, for three days. Bless her heart, that was a brilliant idea!
Do the laundry. If someone has just had surgery, this is the last thing on their mind. Likewise the caregiver. But don’t we all like sleeping in clean sheets and wearing freshly washed clothes? I know for me, just pulling things out of the washer was challenging given the physical limitations from my surgeries. I was lucky to have SuperHubs to help me, but for those that are on their own, this can be a monumental task
Help with personal care. What girl doesn’t like to have pretty nails? When my mom was unable to do this for herself, I did it for her. I made it into a mani/pedi party, and she loved it! When my hair was coming back from chemo and needed a trim, my husband’s lovely friend Sherry would invite us over to her house so she could shape it for me, saving me the effort of having to go to her salon. You could also offer to stay with the patient so the caregiver can go out and take care of themselves for a change.
It’s really the little things that make you feel so much better. Don’t be afraid to ask, and sometimes, don’t ask because then the patient/caregiver won’t feel bad about accepting. From their perspective, when there is a long road of treatment and recovery ahead, it can feel like all you do is ask people for help when you cannot possibly return the favor. So just do it and beg forgiveness later. It will be appreciated more than you can ever know!
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