What can you do?

I know some friends and family are hopelessly unhelpful when it comes to supporting someone with a chronic illness, but a great many more are just unaware of what to do.  If you’ve never been there, you don’t know.  And you probably don’t want to seem like you’re imposing, or insulting someone.  And sometimes, your offers are rebuffed for what seems like no good reason.  I’ve been on both sides of this and I know it can be tricky to navigate.  Here are some tips I want to pass on.

Keep in mind that help or support needs to be really and truly freely offered and given.  Take dinner.  Helpful if you know the person’s dietary restrictions and needs and can truly abide by them. Offer, kindly and without strings, to make and bring something that can be refrigerated or frozen.  What is less helpful is an offer to invite yourself over for dinner, or invite your loved one to dinner.  They may not be up for entertaining or being entertained, and if your offer comes with that string attached, they may refuse.

I’ve long wished for a way to give a service like PeaPod as a gift.  For readers outside of the area where you’d know what that is, it’s a service that lets you buy your groceries from a local supermarket online and then arrange to either pick them up bundled and paid for, or have them delivered.  My god I would love the latter.  Probably there is a way to do this, and if anyone figures it out, tell me.  I have a dear friend I’d love to do this for.  Not as a “I’m buying all your groceries forever” kind of gesture, but as a “hey, I set you up with a gift certificate that pays for 4 deliveries of your groceries so you don’t have to use up your resources staggering through the supermarket”.

Pet care.  Pets can end up being affected by their owners’ illnesses too.  I myself have forgone having a dog for years now because I know I do not have the energy that it requires to care for one.  Sometimes, you had the pets before you got so sick.  Sometimes, you need the pets for the love and comfort they provide but have a hard time managing to care for them when things get tough.  A good case in point:  I have a good friend who is going through a real upheaval right now.  She’s got a couple of chronic illnesses, endometriosis, migraines, been diagnosed with fibro and frequently struggles with the “fibro fog”, intense fatigue, and chronic pain.  Her husband lost his job about two months ago, just before she started a new full time one.  She had already been worried about whether she would be able to do the schedule this new job demanded, then about a month into it…a month of her husband having no luck looking for jobs locally, her husband got a job one state and over 5 hours away.  Money is incredibly tight and he has to take it.  So he’s moving to be near the job, and will come home on weekends to be with her.  But it leaves her all week with managing their household and her new, already incredibly challenging full time job alone.  Her household consists of three cats, one of whom is seriously ill and needs timed medication including subcutaneous fluid injections; and two energetic labs that they rescued about a year ago after her husband’s dog of many, many years died.  My friend needs to find someone who can help her with the meds and with doggie care during the day, her job keeps her out of the house for 10 hours a day three days a week and you cannot leave energetic dogs alone for that long without big behavior problems.   While she lives far away and I can’t offer to pet sit (and my own schedule and illness wouldn’t allow for it), I can offer to pay for a few days of doggie daycare to give her a break now and then.  It’s about the cost of a good mani-pedi.  So I’ll paint my own damned nails and toes once a month.

Laundry…especially if your loved one has to do laundry at a laundromat.  Offering to come help carry clothes in and out is a huge help, and you can schedule hangout time while you wait for the cycles to run.

Yardwork and snow removal.  When Mr. Patient is out of town, I have images of me wasting away in my home, snowed in.  There is no way in hell I can shovel.  If you have a friend with a chronic illness, offer to clear snow or pay a local kid to do it.  Yeah, your friend might have a capable spouse or family living with them, but if they are supportive, they’re already doing the grocery shopping and the laundry and the cooking dinner…you get the picture.

If you’re a really close friend or family member, you could offer to drive them to a doctor’s appointment now and then.  Doctors’ appointments can sometimes involve painful tests or procedures, and even when they don’t, they can be emotionally draining.  If I had a nickel for every time I have had to pull over and cry while driving myself to or from a doctor’s appointment, well I’d have enough for a cup of coffee at least.  So know that if you offer to drive, you are offering to be moral support too.

The time to pitch in is when you hear of a change.  Is your friend having surgery?  A flare up of symptoms?  Is your friend’s spouse going out of town?  This is when your friend will really need the extra help.  And it’s better than flowers or cards or fruit baskets.

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3 Comments

  1. This post is so great! I have to do all of that on my own, minus the snow as we don’t have that, and it’s so hard. I think everyone with chronic illness could have a better quality of life with some help and companionship (and money in my case). I know I could have a better life, even if I still have all my issues, if all that showed up at the door.
    xx

    Reply
  2. Medical Mojave

     /  October 5, 2013

    I always advise gift cards to restaurants for take out. Forget shopping, cooking can be a real challenge. I did actually set things on fire once doing that.

    Reply

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