health · relationships · renewal

How To Help Someone Heal (When You Don’t Know How To Help)

Although we wish it would never happen, there will come a time when major illness / surgery / medical care affects someone dear to us.

As a cancer survivor who has battled multiple surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, and more, I have often been asked how to help someone in a similar situation. The most recent came last week and prompted this post.

The following list is a small sampling of ways to reach out. It is not just for illness but for anyone suffering through a difficult life event and is only limited by your own creativity.

Whatever gesture, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can have an incredible impact on how another person heals.

WHAT BROUGHT LIGHT TO MY DARK DAYS

 -Meal Service: Organize a network of dinners via Meal Train or Sign Up Genius. Meals are catered to allergies and tastes, and menus can be as complicated or simple as you like. During my chemo weeks, friends provided delicious home cooked and carry out meals for my husband and son.

-Dinner Gift Cards: A gift card for meal delivery or carry out on those nights when they are too tired to cook will be appreciated.

-Meal Alternatives: If they are unable to eat due to intensive treatment or recovery, consider doctor-recommended Ensure. There were many days when I could not stomach food and textures made me nauseous. A friend included a pack with her donated meal, and it worked to provide vital nutrients when I could not eat.

-Seasonal Arrangement: This one is obvious. I am not a flower person, but the sentiment certainly did brighten my days.

-Group Gift Basket: If your friend is part of a group or club, have the members contribute an item to a collective gift basket as a way to cheer them up.

-Media: A friend of mine gifted the season one DVD of a popular television show. I became hooked enough to catch up on the entire series while I was sick. Books and crosswords are also wonderful ideas to help pass recovery time. If you order from Amazon, you can gift almost any item (digitally or via mail) to another person.

-Drop A Note: I still have (and cherish) all of the handwritten greeting cards, notes, and kid drawings that came through the mail or were given to me. One friend sent a funny card every week to let me know I was not forgotten.

-Social Media: I received countless wall posts and private messages of support. A second of your time can make a world of difference to someone who is feeling down, isolated, or alone.

-Child Care: Offers to babysit, host play dates, pick up from school, or run a child to/from activities can be a lifesaver on those days when it is difficult to even get out of bed.

-Provide Transportation: If they are unable to drive, offer to take them to appointments, the store, etc.

-Run Errands: Save them a trip. Ask if they need groceries, a run to the post office, or a stop at the discount store.

-Home Care: Offer to do light chores. If you use a cleaning service, see if they provide free services for medical patients. Cleaning For A Reason offers free maid service and the opportunity to gift to someone battling cancer.

-Be Social: Friends invited me for coffee, movies, and more on a regular basis. Though I was not always up to it, I did go on many occasions. It felt wonderful to be included and escape the diagnosis for a while.

-Check In: Let them know you are thinking of them, just because and with no expectations. One morning my neighbor and her children brought me a bouquet of wildflowers after their morning walk. The visit took less than five minutes but made the day.

-Join The Fight: More than once, I was shown public support via fundraising, sponsorship, or recognition on my behalf.

-Prayer Chains: Regardless of your religious affiliation, it is heartening to know someone is praying for you. My hometown church included me on a weekly prayer list and a complete stranger who knew of my fight sent a lovely card.

These are just a few ideas and as you can see, I still remember them almost five years later! Each person is different and every situation unique, but there are some basic things to remember:

DO
  • Respect their privacy: ask permission before sharing with anyone
  • Ask questions and then listen to the answers
  • Allow them to choose topics of conversation
  • Avoid negative stories about whatever it is they battle
  • Help them feel normal whenever possible
  • Let them know you are willing to help if needed
  • Reach out!
DO NOT
  • Post on social media or make it public if they do not want it
  • Offer advice unless they ask for it
  • Judge: everyone fights in their own way
  • Hover: allow them the freedom to heal on their own terms
  • Minimize their pain or emotions
  • Call or visit if they are not ready
  • Avoid them just because you do not know what to say or do!
WHEN…

they seek companionship, be there.

they ask for space, leave.

they want to talk, let them.

they need silence, give it.

Honor the struggle. The greatest gift you can give someone who is healing is your patience and understanding.


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