We have several friends that have major medical concerns. When I first started getting to know each of them, I didn’t understand how much time and effort they devoted to their health. As I got to know them and understand what their lives are like, I realized that each friend was chronically ill. (A couple of them even describe themselves this way.)
Being chronically ill basically means that you have long term health concerns that drive almost every decision you make on a daily basis. There are other more specific definitions that relate to being unable to do daily living activities, but, to me, when someone is chronically ill it means:
- That person is sick and may or may not know what is wrong.
- That person might say ‘no’ to doing things because of how she feels that day or to limit interaction with others for fear of getting even more sick, like from a cold.
- That person may look “healthy” despite her body’s medical needs.
- That person may take several medications to keep the body going to complete daily tasks.
- That person has to make the simplest of decisions on how it will affect her health.
- That person may be too sick to hold down a typical 9 to 5 job.
I have found with several of my friends that are chronically ill: They don’t want to ask for help. They either don’t want to be a burden or they don’t want to be different from the rest of us.
But, they need help.
Don’t dismiss what you can do because you may not understand the medical problems.
Don’t dismiss the idea that you can help if they just don’t know what to say when you ask to help.
And, DON’T dismiss the idea that your kids can help, either. Kids can help. My boys have been with me almost every time we have reached out to help our friends.
As a family, we do several things to help. Some of these are spontaneous, others are very deliberate. With my boys, we have one friend in particular that we help on a regular basis (shhhhhh-she doesn’t know we are that deliberate with our efforts). Sarah is a single woman who is chronically ill.
Recently, Sarah had some very difficult health problems that made managing her life and caring for herself even more difficult. We recognized that she needed help, and so we reached out to her. Here are ways that we helped her that you can think about when helping the friends and loved ones in your life that are chronically ill.
Ways Our Family Can Help the Chronically Ill
1. We always ask, “How can we help?” And, then follow up the question with some suggestions. It helps Sarah understand what we are capable of and gives her an idea of the help that she can accept. Often times, being chronically ill is overwhelming. You have so many things that need to be done and prioritizing to just even ask for help is hard.
2. We see what needs to be done and find ways to do it. There are many things kids can do: Bring in the trashcans, bring the newspaper to the door, offer to walk Sarah’s dog . . . We do the yard work when we can see that it needs to be done. We know Sarah cannot afford to pay someone to do her yard work. Whenever we see that the yard work needs to be done, we do it. The picture collage above of us pulling weeds is one example. And, typically, we do the yard work anonymously.
YES! Those boys pulling those weeds are 6 and 4 years old.
The key to doing yard work with kids: have a buddy and do it in small amounts of time. 15 minutes pulling the weeds does have an effect, especially if you do it a couple of times in a week.
3. “Extra Chicken Tortilla Soup” Phone Calls. I have scheduled on my calender once a month that we will bring Sarah dinner. She doesn’t know that. (We have had Sarah over for family meals with us multiple times and understand what her dietary restrictions are.) Once a month we give her a “spontaneous” call and say: Hey! I made some extra chicken tortilla soup. I want to drop some by at 5. Is that okay?
She always says yes. The boys and I work together to make the meal and then put in fun extras that they think that she will like. “Oh, Mom, can I draw a picture of her dog to give her?” or “She needs a magic wand. She told me she liked my magic wand last time.”
4. Plan “spontaneous” acts of kindness for your friend. Once a month, the boys and I get together and put together something fun for her. Sometimes it is homemade card. Sometimes we make tissue paper flowers. Nothing grand. Just something to let her know that we care about her.
5. And, we are always okay if she says NO to an offer of help. There have been a couple of times in the past year where Sarah needed to say no to an offer of help or a gesture of kindness. That is okay. The purpose of reaching out is to help Sarah, to make sure she doesn’t feel alone, and to uplift her.
Although it is important that the boys are learning to help others as we help Sarah, they are also gaining so much from it. Sarah is funny and warm with them. They love lapping up the attention she gives with her jokes and her hugs (just so you know, not all our friends that are chronically ill like to hug–that’s okay). My boys also learn just how great it is to be healthy and that they should always be grateful for that.
Did someone come to mind while reading this? Do you have a friend or a loved one that is chronically ill? How do you help them?
You might also like reading about how the boys took a magic show to a friend in the hospital (this friend also lives with a chronic illness).
Free and simple ways to share your time to helped a loved one struggling with chronic illness: