Friendship and Chronic Illness: 5 Ways to Support a Friend Who’s Sick

Being friends with someone who is chronically ill has it’s challenges. I’ll be the first to admit this as the one living with illness!

Many of us spend the majority of our days at home treating and healing, we cancel/don’t make plans, we aren’t always up for a visit, our symptoms can make staying in touch difficult, and we rarely answer the question “how are you doing” with a great report…because we’re always sick.

But you know the thing about us that remains normal? We need our friends.

I understand it can feel overwhelming. You’re not sure what to do, say or even how to be a friend to someone who’s either chronically or critically ill. But believe me when I tell you that you CAN play a part and, from personal experience, they most likely WANT you to. They just may not know how to ask (or if it’s welcomed).

Here are 5 ways you can support your friend as they live with illness. Each inspired by some of my dearest, most thoughtful friends.

1. A message for their thoughts.

Friendship in Chronic Illness: Ways to Support a Friend

This doesn’t have to cost you a dime (or five of them), and it won’t unless you snail mail it! If you don’t live nearby, and even if you do, this is a great outlet for you to still support your friend/family member.

Some of my favorite texts/messages/cards from friends and family have been along the lines of “I’ve been thinking about you. How are you doing?” and even “Wanted you to know I think you’re awesome. And here’s a funny picture of my dog.”

You’re simply letting them know you are in this with them and wanted them to know they matter to you.

2. A meal for their belly.

Some of the sweetest moments in this difficult journey have been when people have offered to bring food (especially when it happened to be one of my worst days). I would breathe a sigh of relief because I knew we’d be getting takeout again otherwise.

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Word of wisdom: ask before just dropping by with a meal (or for any reason, for that matter). It’s always better if they’re prepared for your arrival. They may have a full fridge or the meal taken care of already and could suggest a different day.

Make sure you are aware if they have a special diet. You can also consider including a few paper plates to save on dishes – that alone can be such a gift!

3. Food for their fridge/pantry.

Caring for a Friend in Chronic Illness: 5 Simple Ideas

Not able to cook? That’s okay, you’re covered here! Send them a text before you go on your usual grocery run. Something simple like: “I’m heading to the grocery store and would like to bring you a bag of groceries. What do you need?” If you have a budget in mind, share that to give them an idea of what they can ask for.

I haven’t always taken people up on their offer if I had a full fridge, but other times it’s blessed us to have someone bring the few items we were out of. Or that set of paper plates I mentioned above! When you’re down a driver because someone is ill, every little thing adds up.

4. Care in a package.

Send them a surprise package in the mail. This doesn’t need to be huge, just be creative and thoughtful. Remember: thoughtfulness always wins!

Some ideas for what you could include could be: an herbal tea, a note, a cozy pair of socks, a snack (if you know what they can eat), a movie, a journal, a magazine they would enjoy, a candle or maybe something ridiculous to make them laugh.

The package really could be as simple as a single item with a hand written card letting them know you’re thinking of them. I guarantee it will brighten their day.

5. A touch of cheer for their home.

Friendship in Chronic Illness: Ways to Support a Friend

Whether it’s a bouquet of flowers or plant, a favorite coffee or tea drink, a movie/tv series to borrow, lunch from their favorite place or even a funny text – cheer brings sunshine to the soul.

One friend bought me a beautiful watercolor print to hang on my wall and I cherish that. I see it hanging in my living room and it reminds me of her kindness. Think of what they might enjoy and offer to bring it by sometime.

You don’t need to be a licensed counselor, practicing doctor, be filled with profound words of wisdom or even live in the same town to be a friend to the chronically ill in your life. It really can be as as simple as taking the initiative and offering something specific from this list (or something you think of on your own!)

You may feel like stepping back because you don’t understand, are uncomfortable with the situation, or are overwhelmed by the uncertainty of what to do. But it is brave of you to find ways to be a friend, to enter into their story and remind them they aren’t alone in their pain and struggle.

And it is brave of those who are sick to accept and invite others in. We need and can learn from each other.

What would you add to the list??

‘For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.ÔÇÖ Matthew 25:35-36

Are you fighting illness and feeling overwhelmed by the pain, loss, and un-materialized dreams? I’d love to offer you the book I’ve written from my own place of rawness. Click here to download your free copy!

This post was originally published in May of 2014, but has been updated.

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  1. loveleavelaura says:

    Yes, it’s so important to care for people. Joel Osteen once said that people pray for a miracle, and sometimes, we are meant to be their miracle. Someone might be praying that they’ll get a friend, and we can become their miracle by befriending them. ­čÖé

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  3. MH says:

    I really like the idea of saying, “I’m getting groceries. What can I bring you?” So often, I hear, “If you need anything, let me know.” I am very appreciative of those gestures, but sometimes it’s hard to ask for what I need. I’m working on that, but if someone tells me they’d like to do something specific for me, it allows me to accept graciously and feel like less of a burden.

    I am new to your blog, Kami, but am so grateful to have your words enter my email box each week! Your audio recording touched me deeply. Keep doing your great work!

    • Kami says:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment! I definitely understand the tension between being appreciative for broad offers of help, but wishing they could be more specific. With how much we already have to ask for or rely on help, it’s such a gift when someone thinks to offer something they think of that I need or that would take a load off my shoulders. I’m so glad you found my blog and that my words can be a comfort to you. It’s my aim for this to be a safe place for the hurting. Reminding us we are not alone. Sending you a big hug!

  4. Chronic Mom says:

    Love this, especially the grocery idea. Once I was really sick and a friend texted me to ask what I needed so she could get things for me at the store. It was such a huge help!

    • Kami says:

      Such a great friend! Those moments are so helpful. I know many people simply don’t know what to do, perhaps crippled by the feeling that it may not be welcomed or “enough.” But these “small” things help us so much! Especially on the super sick days. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. Dana Hollingsworth says:

    That’s a really good list! It’s also a good reminder of things I can do for other people who are sick on a day when I feel up to it. I often find it difficult; wanting and knowing how to help when people are sick and not being able to because of my own limitations.

    • Kami says:

      I so wish I could serve my fellow illness warriors more, too. I bet you encourage, listen and support them in ways that don’t require as much physical effort, which is so hard on our sick bodies. Someday I also hope to be well enough to support the sick face to face with the things from this list I cannot do at the moment. Our compassion has grown so much through this experience! Sending you a hug, Dana!

  6. Brittany W says:

    What a GREAT list. Although I love hearing from people in a letter or a note (or even a text), concrete help like a meal is something that many people don’t think to offer. It can really make a difference.

    • Kami says:

      Thanks, Brittany! I so agree. The concrete help that takes a load off our shoulders makes such a difference. My mom has regularly offered her help cleaning when she visits and it’s always such a gift. Humbling, but SO helpful.

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