Wednesday, March 29, 2017

How to Support Your Sick Loved Ones

A friend recently reached out to me to ask how she can support and pray for a friend with chronic, undiagnosed illness. It took me awhile to respond to her email because organizing and polishing my many thoughts felt overwhelming, and in the end, I responded with just a few of the many things I've learned over the years.

One day, when I am stronger and have more distance from my years in bed, I intend to compile a more thoughtful and comprehensive resource for people with sick loved ones, but in the meantime, I'm sharing my [slightly expanded] response here because I have had a number of people reach out with similar questions lately. I hope this helps:

Dear Friend to the sick,

Your friend is fighting the most grueling, terrifying battle of her life. She will be tempted to give up, despair, and turn her back on God; and Satan is doing his best to make her do all three. Pray for her. She will need to be swaddled in prayer.

Ask God to give your friend a sense of God’s peace and presence. Ask him to give her medical provision. Ask him to show her exactly which foods to eat, medicine and supplements to take, and doctors to see. Ask him to protect her from misleading doctors and destructive medicine. Ask him to provide others who can support her emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally. 

Ask God to provide for your friend financially. If you can help her financially, or if you can rally friends to help, that will likely eliminate an enormous burden — a burden that has been adding to her body's already enormous stress load. I know a number of people, including myself, whose healing process accelerated when the financial burden was alleviated a bit.

Ask the Spirit how to pray for your sick friend. Ask Him how He is praying for her, and join Him. 

Ask God to give your friend hope for healing. She cannot get healthy without a measure of hope. If she feels she is unable to hold onto hope for healing, then tell her you will hold onto that hope for her. My friend Tanya did that for me five years ago — in my darkest hours, she reminded me: hope still glowed in the darkness. To this day, she is the person I turn to when I need to be reminded of the hope I have. 

While you hold your friend's hope, try to buoy her own hope. Remind her of all the medical options available — there are so many professionals to see and treatments to try. She will not exhaust her resources and options. And she is beloved by the King of Kings, the Great Healer who has all power, dominion, and glory. If you can, track down stories of God healing people and share them with her weekly (the Jesus Film newsletter has loads of these stories). She likely needs to be reminded that God still heals people in mighty and wondrous ways. 

Don’t let your friend forget that she isn’t forgotten. She will likely feel forgotten, tucked away in her room day after day. Many of her friends will probably abandon her, and she will need reminders that she is loved and desired. So send her regular, encouraging texts; and make it clear that she doesn’t need to respond. Tell her you’re praying for her, and tell her HOW you’re praying for her. 

Send her care packages. Send her letters. Send her photos. These will be pockets of sunshine in very dark days. Even when the months of sickness slip into years, send snail mail. 

Affirm the good work you see her doing, and affirm the work you don’t see her doing but know she must be doing. Staying alive, not giving up, not despairing – these require the utmost grit. Remember her suffering is unspeakable.  Validate her pain. She has become a naked shell of herself, and while she suffers physically, her dreams are dying. Her dreams for a career, deepening friendships, travel adventures, marriage, a family, a home. The desert of chronic illness has a way of drying up dreams. For this reason, the desert is a place of grief. Every day of chronic illness can be laden with grief, and the grief doesn’t go away. It builds and builds as the sickness continues to strip away comforts, loves, desires, and a sense of self.  

Because your friend's disease is rare and hard to diagnose, it is likely she has had inexperienced doctors suggest her illness is all in her head. Worse yet, her friends and family members have probably made similar comments. If she is like many of the sick people I know, then she has had people tell her she is pretending to be sick because she likes the attention, or that her sickness is her own darn fault because she doesn't think enough positive thoughts. These comments feel cruel and crazy-making — they suck any last bit of spirit out of a languishing soul and dying body. 

Assure her you know she isn't crazy — that her illness is real and doctors will eventually identify it. If you can make your friend feel understood and validated in her overwhelming, unending suffering, that will somehow mitigate her pain just a bit. 

And if your friend lives near you, buy her weekly groceries. Don't offer to buy them; tell her you will be buying them. Ask her for a list of foods her body can tolerate, and make her weekly meals. If she protests, tell her you WILL be making the meals and are delighted to do it. If you can, rally other friends to make meals with you. 

Continue to provide in this way, even as the months of illness slip into years. It's not uncommon for support to dissipate after the first few months of illness, especially when there's no recognizable label for the illness, like "cancer." But rest assured, the illness is likely just as incapacitating as cancer — if not more — and the need just as great. 

Make phone calls to insurance companies for your friend, and take her to doctors appointments. Sometimes she will have as many as five appointments in a week, and the information-packed appointments themselves will feel like they are draining the last few drops of life out of her. She will need you to be her ears in those appointments, and she will need your permission to be silent on the drives to and from appointments.

Find out the days she is getting blood drawn. Make sure she has food and drink to last a few days after those blood draws, and keep a close eye on her. Getting lots of blood drawn when you're desperately sick can make you feel like you are dying — it can be desperately scary. 

Let your friend tell you all of the gross things she is experiencing. Let her tell you about the daily coffee enemas, the wad of parasites she passed last week, the stool samples, the urine samples, and the throwing up that happened every time she took her new supplement this week. Make sure she doesn't feel alone as she endures so many layers of distress.

Visit her at least once a week to wash and blow dry her hair. When you are done, brush her hair until it shines, and then rub her back. Then curl up on her bed and cry with her. When you are done crying, just lie there in still silence. Make a practice of this.

At least once a month, clean her house; wash her linens; water her plants. If she doesn't have any plants, buy her one. It will bring her joy.  

Give her regular hugs. If she is unmarried, then she is likely getting very little touch. Touch your cheek to hers when you hug her. The skin to skin contact will calm her nervous system. 

Ask your friend to write you a list of her physical, emotional, financial, spiritual, and mental needs. If this task feels overwhelming — and it likely will — then just ask, "What are two ways I can support you emotionally this week? And what are two ways I can care for you physically?"

Assure her again and again that it is your joy to support her in this way. Tell her you love her often. When you are thinking of her, tell her. And don't stop. Don't stop as her illness morphs into a battle spanning the years. When everyone else forgets, keep on serving and rallying support troops. And never stop praying for healing. 

There is a good chance God will use you to save her life. 

You are a wonderful friend to care for your friend so devoutly. I'm praying for you as you do. 



facebook icon iconheart icon

© by scj


  1. I am that "friend". Thank you for these lovely words that I will cherish and drink in like a tonic straight from the Lord. My family has no idea what I am experiencing with my illness..."sister" thankyou.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      I am so sorry you are expericing the loneliness of chronic illness. I pray God provides a friends who can again and again care for your many needs.