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Maintaining Friendships Through Serious Illness

Armen Hareyan's picture

Health and friendship

How can you help a friend who has a serious illness?

While family members typically provide the emotional support, friends are important too. Some people pull away from friends who are ill. It's not that they don't care, but often they don't know what to say. The May issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter offers ways to support friends who are ill.

Offer practical help, such as picking up groceries or dropping off library books. Organize friends and neighbors to regularly help with household chores.

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Change your communication style. Phone calls may be better than visits. Find out if there's a time of the day that's generally best to talk on the phone. Talk about things that promote upbeat feelings. Be prepared for times when your friend isn't up to talking.

Know when your friend is ready for visits. Call to set up a visit. Assure your friend it's OK to change plans. Short, periodic visits may be best. When you visit, offer to bring along a treat to share so that your friend doesn't feel obligated to prepare something. Don't forget touch - a gentle hug or a handshake can be very reassuring. On an ill friend's "good days," offer to go for a car ride, coffee, lunch or a movie.

Gauge conversation to your friend's condition. Sometimes a visit can be as simple as listening. Quiet time together is a form of companionship that good friends can share. Or, talk about things you have in common. If the situation warrants, seek out your friend's advice or opinion. Your friend needs to feel valued and able to contribute to the relationship. And don't be surprised if your friend is tired of talking about illness.

The person who's sick may tend to push away those who want to help, not wanting to burden the friendship. As a friend, you'll need to find the delicate balance between the space your ill friend needs and his or her emotional need for closeness. Achieving the balance can enrich both of your lives.