6 Ways You Can Help a Friend Who is Sick

Suggestions that let you be present and make a difference

Boomers pride ourselves on our ability to handle anything that comes our way, but there’s one thing many of us aren’t prepared for: when friends in our age group get life-threatening diseases.
This inescapable front-row seat to a friend’s suffering — and recognition of our own aging — are happening now and will continue for the rest of our lives.
While our friendships in the past might have included vacations, gym sessions and social events, the scenario changes significantly when, for example, a friend is undergoing chemotherapy or another serious treatment. She may be housebound with no energy for outings, unable to drive or even sit at a movie.
We want to be helpful, but we’re often unsure about what we can do. Plenty, it turns out. Here are six specific, kind, and helpful acts to aid a friend who is suffering:

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1. Don’t ask; do. We’re an independent generation and many of us hate being dependent. So take the initiative to be useful. Cook a meal or two your friend can eat and bring it over. Offer to run an errand or take her to the doctor or sit with her for treatment. She'll appreciate those types of things.
2. Pay extra attention to your sick friend. Call often, even if you just leave a message. Be sure your friend knows you will stick with him or her no matter what. Because, it turns out, some friends disappear when another gets sick, probably because they don’t know how to handle the situation or what to do. Don’t be one of those who vanish. Be there for your loved one.
3. Visit, and don’t come empty-handed. My local grocery’s floral department will make a small arrangement of six blooms in a small vase for around $12 — perfect for a bedside table. Maybe yours will. Or you could bring something from your garden.

Small-scale is best. Bake banana bread, cookies — whatever might tempt your friend’s palate and let show you are thinking of them.

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4. Watch sappy movies together. I have a friend who loves to watch them, and every so often when I visit, we watch an escapist romance on Netflix or on TV. We’ve had some of our best times during those movies and it takes her out of herself for two hours.
5. Give your friend's caregiver some respite. A spouse or other caregiver is often on duty 24 hours a day. Why not offer to spend a day with your friend to give that angel some respite? Let the caregivr have a massage, go to the gym, run errands or just get some much-needed rest. The bonus? You’re spending time with your friend.

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6. If your friend lives far away, send something. It might be hard for you to get there in person. Why not send a weekly card? Or a package with some light reading you think your friend might like. Some women might appreciate a deck of health-related affirmation cards. I actually made a deck of affirmations for a special friend, one she uses every day.
It’s hard to watch a dear friend suffer and easy to be paralyzed with fear that you won’t do the right thing. Fact is, any kind, loving act from the heart is appreciated — including just the pleasure of your company.

Carol A. Cassara
By Carol A. Cassara
Carol A. Cassara is an essayist whose work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicken Soup for the Soul, on public radio and in various other publications. She blogs daily at carolcassara.com.

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