Knowing how to help when someone is ill

August 25, 2011|Hospice Helps

Special to The Herald-Mail

When we know someone is facing a serious illness, we are challenged to find what to do or what to say.  

We might find our own fear and sense of helplessness makes us hesitant to visit as we used to. Our worry of intruding on the privacy of illness often causes us to shy away. Most times we make one call and say, "If you need anything, just call." We know it is a vague phrase and not enough, but our confusion keeps us from asking too many questions.

On a daily basis, we at hospice face the realities of serious illnesses. We have learned from our patients and their families how we can help.

Perhaps some of these thoughts will strike a chord and help give "legs" to our weak offers of help:

  •  "Don't avoid me. Be the friend you have always been. Call before you visit, but don't be afraid to come. I can get lonely."
  •  "Call for my shopping list, and make a special delivery to my home. I won't need to ask someone and I would love to see you."
  •  "Help my family. Invite them out. Take them places. I am sick, but they need some relief from their caregiving responsibilities. Offer to stay with me to give them a break."
  •  "Let's just chat. Maybe I need to talk about my illness. Find out by asking, 'Do you feel like talking about it?' Cry when I cry and laugh when I laugh. Don't be afraid to share these emotions with me. It helps me stay connected with you and reminds me of the many times we laughed until we cried. Just having you nearby lets me know I am still important to you."
  •  "Watch my children while I enjoy some time alone with my spouse. My children may need a 'normal' day with your children apart from my illness."
  •  "Can you take me somewhere? I may need transportation and a strong arm to lean on while going to a treatment, to the store, or to a doctor's appointment. Maybe, if I am up to it, we could have lunch out afterward."
  •  "Could you help me with some cleaning? I still feel embarrassed to greet visitors if my house isn't tidied up. I have dirty laundry, dirty dishes and cobwebs that drive me crazy when I cannot get to them."
  •  "Take care of my garden and my lawn. It is frustrating to be unable to make my house look presentable in the neighborhood. Sometimes it is all I can think about when I look out the window."
Most of all, remember that your friend or loved one is still your friend or loved one.

The changes that have resulted in decreased strength and changed appearance have not altered his or her soul.

Perhaps these simple suggestions will help you offer specific help that might be more readily accepted.  

In truth, the gift of time is your greatest gift.

Shelley J. Steiner is marketing and community relations director of Hospice of Washington County.

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