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The Many Ways to Support an Ill Friend

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By Lisa M. Petsche

When someone you know is diagnosed with a serious illness, you may want to reach out to that individual but feel unsure of what to say or do. This uncertainty can keep you away at the time when your help is needed most. The following are some ways to show you care.

Emotional Support Don’t agonize over what to say. Keep it simple and heartfelt: for example, “I’m here for you.” Don’t be afraid to share your emotions. Remember, too, that a touch of the hand, a pat on the shoulder or a hug can often convey support and caring better than words.

Educate yourself about the disease to understand the challenges your friend faces.Allow him or her to express emotions freely. Serious illness affects people physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. But although there may be similarities, no two people experience it the same way. Feelings may include shock, anxiety, fear, anger, guilt, sadness, loneliness and hopelessness.

Recognize and accept that people cope with illness in different ways. Some may alter priorities and lifestyle while others may choose to carry on as usual. Some may use humor as a coping mechanism while others may become introspective or more spiritual. Don’t take bad moods or uncharacteristic behavior personally.Spiritual Support

If you are praying for your friend, let him or her know this. Offer to pray together if you think your friend would be receptive.

If your friend is connected with a faith community, offer to look into available social ministries, such as telephone support, friendly visiting and transportation (to church or doctor visits, or to pick up needed items).

Maintaining the RelationshipKeep in mind that you may have to be the one who makes most of the effort. Call ahead to determine the best time to visit. Be sensitive to signs of fatigue that signal you should conclude the visit.

Treat your friend the way you always have. Don’t hesitate to smile or tell a joke. Be yourself.Listen non-judgmentally, demonstrate compassion and don’t give unsolicited advice. Instead, provide words of support and encouragement.

Encourage your friend to take one day at a time and to trust that he or she will be able to cope with whatever lies ahead.

Don’t underestimate the pain – physical, emotional and spiritual – your friend may be experiencing and don’t discourage tears or urge him or her to “be strong.” Don’t withhold your own tears either; they’re a sign that you care.

Take cues from your friend as to how he or she wishes to deal with the illness; don’t make assumptions.

Encourage him or her to practice self-care, including proper nutrition, exercise (if appropriate), getting adequate rest and avoiding unnecessary stress. Also encourage your friend to keep medical appointments.

Help a female friend feel good about her appearance. Offer to style her hair or do her nails, or bring her an attractive new accessory, such as a scarf or costume jewelry. Bring a surprise gift, such as flowers or a favorite movie, magazine or food treat.

Invite your friend on an outing, if feasible, keeping in mind any energy limitations. If the person declines visits, telephone or send cards or notes to show support.

Instrumental HelpAssist in practical ways to help your friend concentrate on treatment and ensure needed rest. Walk the dog, run errands, perform household chores or drive him or her to appointments. Offer to get information about community resources that may be of assistance.

Final thoughtsRemember that emotional support and time are the two most valuable gifts you can give a friend who is grappling with a serious health problem.

People who are ill don’t expect friends to provide answers to difficult questions such as, “Why did this happen to me?” or to take away their pain.

What they do want and need is the comfort of knowing they are not alone.

Lisa M. Petsche is a medical social worker and a freelance writer specializing in health and boomer and senior issues.

Mature Lifestyles is Middle Tennessee's Newest Monthly Publication dedicated to living fully after 50! The publication serves Rutherford, Sumner, Wilson, Williamson and Dekalb Counties. Mature Lifestyles features articles on Senior Healthcare, Area Senior Events, Mature Real Estate News, Travel, Gardening, Food and entertainment with many of your favorite columns such as Boomer Beat, Veteran's Corner and our newest column - Assisted Loving. With Mature Lifestyles there is no time to rest! With a large distribution in five counties in Middle Tennessee and an active website we are dedicated to ensuring an active and exciting lifestyle after 50!

Norma Bixler is Mature Lifestyles Editor in Chief and Maturle Lifestyles is published by Main Street Media, LLC. 

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