How To Help A Loved One With Chronic Illness

Reviewed by Phillip Waite, Ph.D.

"Let me know if there is anything I can do..." we often tell a friend who lives with a chronic illness. I've offered this numerous times, but there are very few times someone has actually felt comfortable calling and asking me to help them out. When a friend is in pain we may try to warm her spirit with a dish hot from the oven. Oftentimes, however, she may not feel like eating anything, especially my calorie-laden "need-a-quick-dish-for-a-friend" lasagna. Before we are mistakenly bring a pie by for a diabetic or cheese enchiladas for someone with heart disease, let's look at some other ways that a friend who has an illness could use our assistance.

Offer to pick up some groceries rather than do the cooking. Many times people with illnesses have restrictive diets, so they may rather have some fresh fruits and vegetables than that casserole. Or ask what kind of meals she is eating and then freeze some of these for her to have on hand.

Take the children out for a while so your friend can get some rest. Plan something special for the children and before you drop them off at the house, pick up a small "something" that will make their parent smile like some fresh flowers or balloons.

Look around her home and see what needs to be done and then make an offer to do it. Do the tree branches need trimmed? The toilets cleaned? The carpet shampooed?

Accompany her to places where she may need some assistance. Get your haircut at the same time, or have the oil changed in her car while you are eating lunch.

Bring an uplifting personal little gift when you come to visit. Some fresh cut roses, a new book, a special teacup or mug, a blanket may be perfect. Rent her a fun movie and then drop by later to return it to the video store.

Ask the person's spouse how you can help the family. The spouse may be more willing to give you specifics about the family's needs. One spouse was appreciative of gift certificates to the local fast food restaurants so that the children could occasionally have a quick meal and his wife didn't have to worry about making dinner.

Ask your friend what her concerns are and how you can address them. One woman who was ill said that she would like for a friend to make sure her family members made it to church, even when she couldn't go.

Having the opportunity to serve another person is a blessing and your life will become rich when you give away your time to friends in need. Casseroles are nice, but by taking the time to go beyond casseroles you can become a true friend. No one wants to be just a name on a piece of masking tape stuck to a pan in the kitchen. It's fun to see how a little creativity can bring great joy into another person's life!

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Lisa Copen lives with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia and is the founder and director of Rest Ministries, Inc., a Christian organization for people who live with chronic illness.  Visit the author's web site at

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