Thursday, October 11, 2012

when you have a chronically ill friend or family member

Having a chronic illness presents many challenges. I think one of the hardest things to deal with is the fact that it is not usually temporary. What I mean is, when a woman has a baby or gets the flu, usually friends, family members, or the church they belong to brings in meals for a few days, tosses in a load or two of laundry, and helps them get over the hump. After a few days, there is little need for help.

This is not the case with chronic illness. Often, the sick person does not recover within a few days or weeks. The illness lingers. And so does the need for help. But often, the help does not come. People tend to forget that this person needs help long term, and often the sick person him/herself doesn't feel comfortable asking for it.

And then there are many who want to help, but are not sure what to do or say. Often, they will say something like, "If you need anything, let me know." The only problem is, it's hard sometimes to call someone and ask them to wash your dishes or do your laundry, to pick up groceries or prescriptions or make a casserole. It makes you feel like an intrusion when you know these kind people have their own lives to live, their own children to feed, their own groceries to shop for.

I have given all of this a lot of thought as I have laid in my bed, unable to do much physically because of the pain and inflammation of my illnesses. I have wondered whether God has perhaps allowed me to experience this, at least in part, in order to understand those with chronic illnesses better, to cultivate a sense of compassion and empathy I could not otherwise posses. I am determined, whether I get better or just have a few good days here or there, to find ways to minister love and support to other people with chronic illnesses.

I have thought up lots of ways to minister practically and emotionally, and have considered writing about it, in hopes that it might help someone else to be a blessing. But I was very excited to find there was a book already published that is chock full of suggestions for blessing those with chronic illnesses.

Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways To Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend by Lisa J. Copen
is a gem. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to bless a sick friend, family or church member, or just a person in their community who needs support or encouragement. There are so many wonderful ideas, that there really is something for everyone. And I truly see this as a book I would refer back to over and over to come up with more ideas when I can't think of anything else.

But just to give you a little taste, I want to share some of my favorites:

#23 Don't say, "So, why aren't you healed yet?" or "I wonder what God is trying to teach you that you just aren't learning!"

#24 For a unique gift, provide brightly colored paper plates, napkins, and utensils in a gift bag with a note that says "For when you don't feel like doing dishes."

#28 Purchase matching coffee mugs for you and your friend, and then commit to pray for one another each morning while using them.

#41 Accept that her chronic illness may not go away. If she's accepting it, don't tell her the illness is winning and she's giving in to it.

#42 Don't say, "Let me know if there is anything I can do." People rarely feel comfortable saying, "Yes, my laundry." Instead pick something you are willing to do and then ask her permission.

#53 Do not reassure her that God can heal all illnesses if one has enough faith. People with illness know God is capable of healing. Do remind her that God knows and cares.

#59 Say, "I'd like to bring you dinner next week. Would Monday or Tuesday night be better?"

#68 Never say, "I know just how you feel!" even if you are absolutely positive that you do.

#71 Drop by her house with a fancy cup of hot tea or coffee on a dreary rainy day and tell her you were thinking of her.

#74 Be aware of his favorite books and pick them up when you see them.

#141 Not every piece of correspondence requires a long letter. Include a sticky note with a newspaper clipping, a recipe, an interesting magazine article, or a cartoon; and just write, "Thought you would enjoy this! Thinking of you!"

#152 Watch your friend's children so she and her spouse can have a night out.

#157 Don't share any horror stories: about illness, surgeries, hospitals- nothing.

#163 Don't let your fear of not knowing what to say prevent you from keeping in touch.

#168 Don't say, "Oh, you're much too young to have that disease."

#188 Bring her some cute refrigerator magnets for photos and cards you will send.

#198 Don't assume that he has plenty of meals delivered and plenty of daily cards. He likely has much less than you believe.

#209 Give a gift card to a major variety store {Wal-Mart, grocery stores, etc.} for necessities one needs and can't afford.

There are lots, lots more, and there are also scripture verses and lovely quotes that inspire and encourage... I will close with my personal favorite, by Henri Nouwen:

"When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares."

I really don't think I could have said it any better myself.

May we look for ways to make our love and concern tangible in the lives of those who need us.

Remember, Jesus told us when we minister to the least of these, we are ministering to Him.

~amy danielle

{Kind friends, I do hope this post has helped, in some small way, to equip you to bless others. Please share your own ideas, if you feel led to do so, in the box below. Perhaps a way you have blessed someone else, or a way you have been blessed? I would love to hear from you...}

{this is a repost from the archives, as this has been on my heart a lot lately...}


  1. Thank you so much for reposting this, Amy. I've experienced #41 and #157. I know people don't mean to hurt us, they just don't understand. Maybe we should have copies of this book to give to friends when they ask, "how can I help."

    Love you much, sweet friend. The joy of the LORD is our strength. XOX

    1. me too, sweet Pat. and you're right, i think people are trying to be helpful, and just don't understand. hopefully posts like this and books like the one i mentioned can shine a little light. maybe keeping a few copies is a good idea-though it seems funny to me to be asked, what can i do to help? and to have me say, "here. read this please." :) love you bunches! xoxox


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