Helping a Loved One Through Sickness
When a loved one is sick, how can you help?
When a loved one struggles through sickness, it’s only natural for us to want to show our love and support, but it’s not always clear what exactly we should say or do. The following is a list of things you should never say to a sick person (loved one or not), as well as some phrases that could be helpful.
Instead of asking “What can I do to help?” just do it.
While you may have good intentions and really want to help, many sick individuals don’t appreciate this often heartfelt offer because it puts the burden back on them. Many sick people don’t know what they need or don’t want to admit that they need help. So instead of asking, just do something for your loved one. You could cook a meal, help them clean their house, or run some errands. Some other helpful things you could do include doing yard work, providing gift cards to the grocery store or local restaurants, sitting with your loved one to watch his or her favorite movie, or bringing in a basket of CDs, DVDs, healthful snacks, or magazines. Your loved one may also be able to use help with sorting medicines, keeping track of medical appointments and medication schedules, or handling calls and emails from friends and family members.
Instead of saying “My thoughts and prayers are with you,” let your loved one know you’ve been thinking or praying specifically about xyz.
While your sentiments may be genuine, when you say that your thoughts and prayers are with your loved one, on the receiving end that phrase may come off as cliche. If you really have been thinking about or praying for your loved one, be more specific – the details will help your loved one feel your support for them.
Instead of saying “Did you try the abc I recommended?” or “There has to be something more we can do,” say “I want you to have the best medical treatments, but when we’ve done everything we can, I will be here for you.”
Again, you may mean well by offering your loved one advice, but inundating a sick individual with non-medical advice is not helpful, unless they specifically ask for your recommendations or help. Instead, try using words of support that show how much you care for your loved one.
Instead of saying “Everything will be ok,” or “You can beat this” ask “Are there things that are worrying you?” and then say “It must be hard, but I want to do what I can to help.”
While being positive is important, falling back on a phrase like “everything will be ok” may sound trite. If you are not a medical professional with your loved one’s detailed medical history, you cannot say for certain that “everything” will be alright or that your loved one will be able to tackle the illness. Instead, acknowledge that the situation is difficult, and try talking to your loved one about the things that are on his or her mind. Listening can be a great gift.
Other helpful phrases include: “I’m sorry you’re going through this,” “I hate seeing you suffer,” “You mean so much to me,” and “I love you.”
Remember that honest, direct emotion can be very powerful. Although it can be difficult to express our feelings, simple and straightforward words of support can go a long way.
And sometimes you don’t even have to acknowledge your loved one’s sickness. Follow your loved one’s lead, but often sick individuals don’t want to harp on their illness and would prefer to carry on a “normal” conversation that does not involve their medical situation.
Are you caring for a sick loved one? I’d love to hear your advice on what you’ve found to be helpful – please leave your perspective in the comments section below.
Leah Yomtovian Roush is the Senior Manager of Strategic Development for Cleveland, Ohio-based eFuneral, a comprehensive and free online resource that enables those thinking about end-of-life to research, plan, and arrange a wide variety of funeral-related services. Leah is the editor of eFuneral's Online Resource Center, and she manages the company's marketing efforts and develops strategies for company growth. Leah also serves on the Boards of multiple non-profit organizations, helping them expand their reaches and increase their impacts.