Monday, October 20, 2014

Supporting the Family Affected by Chronic Illness

Life with a chronic illness is challenging not just for the one who is ill, but for the family who lives with, and cares for, the ill family member. They have to make many adjustments and sacrifices for the one who is ill. The family may need to adjust to a schedule that moves at a much slower pace and includes a lot of rest time. They may need to adjust to eating different meals at home due to food restrictions. They may need to sacrifice some fun and free time in order to help their family member who is ill. Depending on the level of disability caused by the chronic illness, family members may spend significant time filling the role of caregiver.

Families affected by chronic illness need the support of friends. 

When a spouse is chronically ill, the healthy spouse can become burned out and overwhelmed with the numerous tasks that fall on his shoulders. Lending a hand to alleviate some of the workload will be appreciated. Providing occasional respite from the tasks of caring for an ill spouse may also be appreciated.

If there are children in the family, they also need support and encouragement. They notice that their family is different, and they notice that they miss out on things because of chronic illness in the family. You can reach out to the children in the family with a listening ear, a hug, or by inviting them over to your house to play.

You can help to support the family by praying for them, giving encouragement, spending time with them, and offering practical help. Here are some specific ideas for ways to support the family affected by chronic illness. These ideas are specifically for a family in which a parent has a chronic illness, but many of them are also applicable to other family situations.
  • Send a card to the family to let them know that they are in your thoughts and prayers.
  • Pray that their family would be strengthened and that they would grow close to one another through the hard times. Pray especially for the marriage affected by chronic illness. Pray that they would cling to the Lord and to each other and not drift apart when life gets hard. Pray that God will provide for their needs.
  • Invite their children over to play with your children. Depending on an ill parent’s limitations and needs, their children might not be able to invite friends over very often. They will be excited for the opportunity to go to someone’s house to play with other children, and it may also give your friend a chance to get some much needed rest.
  • If your children are the same age and interested in the same activities, you could offer to take your friend’s child to lessons/practice along with your own child. Without help with transportation, the child in a family affected by chronic illness may not be able to participate in things like school sports, piano lessons, or ballet class.
  • Take the children to the park for a picnic and play time. Take pictures to share with the chronically ill parent at home.
  • Help the chronically ill parent do something fun with her children that she otherwise might not be able to do. This could be a picnic in the backyard, a craft, or decorating cookies. The cookie decorating idea comes from my mom. This is something she has done for us a few times. Last year when my parents came to visit for Christmas, my mom packed homemade gingerbread men, frosting, and candy in her suitcase. William and Adelaide so much fun decorating their own gingerbread men.
  • Invite the family over to your home for a meal. This will give the parents a break from cooking, and it will provide a time of fun and fellowship for the whole family. The children will enjoy going to a new house and playing with new toys. While the children play, you can talk with the parents, see how they are doing, encourage them, and pray for them.
  • Give a couple the gift of a date night. If the chronically ill spouse is homebound, you can offer to give them a date night at home. Take the children to your house for the evening and let the couple have a few hours to themselves for a date.
  • Offer to watch their children for a weekend so that the couple can get away and spend quality time focusing on each other and their marriage.
  • Provide opportunities for the healthy spouse to have time with friends and a break from caregiving. There are people who occasionally invite Will over to watch football, watch a movie, go shooting, or go out to a restaurant. This gives him a break from constantly being “on call” to help the children and me. In order to make this work, Will needs to arrange other care for the children, or he has to wait to go out after he puts the children to bed. For someone in our situation, it would be very helpful to offer childcare or in-home help in order for the healthy spouse to leave home for a time. For example, a friend could say, “Would you like to come over this Saturday to watch football? My wife can take your children to the park so that you can have a break.”
  • Give extra help and support when the healthy spouse gets sick. In many families when a spouse gets sick, there is another spouse who can pick up the slack and keep the household running smoothly. But when one spouse has a chronic illness, life becomes incredibly hard when the healthy spouse gets sick. The flu or a stomach virus can render the healthy spouse unable to keep up with their normal daily tasks. Stepping in temporarily to help out with meals, cleaning, errands, or transportation will be a huge help.

Every Family is Different

Not every family situation with chronic illness is similar to mine. There are many different types of families affected by chronic illness. There are couples without children who are affected by chronic illness. There are couples in which both spouses have a chronic illness. There are single adults who live with their parents because they cannot work or live on their own. There are single adults who can live on their own as long as they have a lot of help from family and friends. There are children and teenagers with chronic illness. There are grandparents with chronic illness. There are single parents who have a chronic illness. The needs of each of these families will vary.

If you have a friend with a chronic illness, you can look for ways to support both her and her family, whatever her family structure may be. You can ask specific questions to find out where they are struggling and where they need support and encouragement. Some helpful questions may be:
  • Does your family need help caring for children?
  • Do your mom or dad need help caring for you?
  • Is there a household task that is too difficult for you and your spouse?
  • Does anyone in your family need help with transportation?
  • What burdens your family the most right now?
  • What is the most challenging task for you?
  • What is the most challenging task for your primary caregiver?
  • If you could have 5 hours of help each week in your home, what would you want help with?
  • What prayer requests does your family have?

Let's hear from you!

If you have a chronic illness, I would really like to hear what you have to say on the subject of supporting the family affected by chronic illness. What is your family situation like? How can friends support you and your family?

Image from Elk City Oklahoma. Adapted by Rachel Lundy.

This post is part of the Chronic Illness and Friendship series.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Offering Practical Help to a Friend with Chronic Illness

Life with a chronic illness is physically challenging. The unrelenting fatigue, weakness, and/or pain can make everyday tasks challenging, and sometimes impossible. People with chronic illness need their friends to be understanding of their limitations, and many of them also need practical help. Needs can vary greatly among the chronically ill. One person might only need occasional help, while another might need daily assistance from family and friends.

If you have a friend with chronic illness, there is likely something you can do to help your friend in a practical way. Depending on your skills and availability, and your friend’s particular needs, here are some suggestions of things that might be helpful to offer to do:
  • Take your friend shopping or run errands for her.
  • Provide transportation to medical appointments or to church.
  • Bring a meal over.
  • Help with homeschooling.
  • Take care of her children when she needs to rest or go to the doctor.
  • Help with house cleaning.
  • Help out with yearly deep cleaning projects.
  • Help with decorating for holidays.
  • Help out with yard work or house maintenance.
  • Give free labor and/or materials for home-modification projects to make her home more accessible. Home modification projects may include things like adding ramps, widening doorways, lowering countertops, and making a bathroom handicap accessible.
  • Take your friend’s laundry to your house, and bring it back the next day clean and folded.
  • Go to the Post Office for her when she needs to mail packages.
  • Give her a hair cut in her home.

If you would like, you can offer help beyond the tasks of daily living and house maintenance. You can help your friend to have some of the simple joys of life that she might otherwise miss out on.  Here are some ideas of practical ways to bring some joy into your friend’s life:
  • Bring over a manicure kit and nail polish and treat her to a manicure in her home.
  • Help her bake or cook something just for fun. Let her stay seated while you do all of the tasks that require walking around.
  • Bring over supplies for a simple craft to do together. When you are finished making crafts, clean up the mess for her.
  • If she isn’t able to go to church often, you could offer to do a simple Bible study with her once a week. If a Bible study is more than she is up for, you could simply read the Bible to her and then pray for her.
  • Bring over her favorite drink from the coffee shop, or bring a meal from a restaurant. Sit and visit together.

Good to Know:

Your friend may need a lot of help when she first faces new limitations. In time she may learn ways to work around those limitations, but it can take a while. She will greatly appreciate your patience with her as she figures out her limitations and needs.

When I first became very sick in 2004 life became incredibly hard. Even though I didn’t have any children at the time, and only had to take care of myself, I struggled to figure out how to do that given my new limitations. I hadn’t yet learned the signals from my body indicating that I needed to lie down and rest. As a result, I would unintentionally push myself too hard physically, and then I would end up paying for it for days or weeks. In time I learned the signals my body gives me to let me know that I need to slow down and rest. I have also found tools and learned tricks that make life a bit easier. But for many months I really struggled and needed extra help. Your friend may face times when she needs extra help too.

Let’s hear from you!

What other ideas do you have for ways to help a friend in practical ways? If you have a chronic illness, what has been the most helpful thing someone has done for you?

Image of cleaning supplies from Chlot's Run. Adapted by Rachel Lundy.

This post is part of the Chronic Illness and Friendship series.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Praying for a Friend with Chronic Illness

Praying for a Friend with Chronic Illness
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6:18
As a Christian with a chronic illness, I am grateful when people pray for me. I know that I need it! This life is hard, and I cannot do it on my own. I need strength and grace from the Lord, and dealing with dysautonomia reminds me of that every day. If you have a friend with chronic illness, praying for her regularly is something you can do.

When someone is sick, it is common to pray for successful treatment and healing. God certainly can heal someone with a chronic illness, and those who know Jesus can come boldly to the throne of grace and ask for healing. But even though God is able to heal, that doesn’t mean He will heal here and now. It may be that His plan is to use the chronic illness to accomplish greater purposes that we cannot yet understand or see. So while you pray for healing for your friend, I encourage you to pray for more than just relief from physical suffering.

What can we pray for beyond physical healing? We can pray that our friend will grow closer to the Lord. We can pray that she will suffer well and be a faithful and godly testimony in the midst of suffering. If she doesn’t know Jesus as her Savior, we can pray for her salvation. 

Let’s look in the Bible to find some more direction for our prayers:
  • Pray that she will thirst for God and that she will hope in Him (Psalm 42:1, 5).
  • Pray that she will trust in the Lord (Proverbs 3:5-6).
  • Pray that she will be “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
  • Pray that she will be filled with joy and peace and that she will abound in hope (Romans 15:13).
  • Pray that God will comfort her (2 Corinthians 1:4).
  • Pray that she will not lose heart and that she will look to the things that are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
  • Pray that God's grace would be sufficient for her and that His strength would be made perfect in her weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  • Pray that she will be characterized by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
  • Pray that she will not grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9).
  • Pray that she will have “the peace of God, that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
  • Pray that she will learn to be content in the circumstances in which God has placed her (Philippians 4:11-13).
  • Pray that God will provide for all of her needs (Philippians 4:19).
  • Pray that she will hold unswervingly to the hope she has professed (Hebrews 10:23).
  • Pray that she will commit herself to God and continue to do good (1 Peter 4:19).

If you want more ideas for how to pray for your friend, these are good passages to look up and use as guides for your prayers:

You can also ask your friend what prayer requests she has. She will probably greatly appreciate knowing that you care enough to pray about specific requests for her.

If you have a friend with a chronic illness, what are you praying for on her behalf? If you have a chronic illness, what specific requests do you have?

Photo for image of praying hands from Sang yun Lee. Adapted by Rachel Lundy.

This post is part of the Chronic Illness and Friendship series.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Encouraging a Friend with Chronic Illness

Life with a chronic illness can be hard and lonely. If you have a friend with a chronic illness, one thing you can do for her is encourage her on those hard and lonely days. Your words of encouragement, both spoken and written, will communicate to your friend that she has not been forgotten and that you see her pain. Your words can build her up and give grace (Ephesians 4:29). Your words may be just the encouragement she needs to persevere on the hard days.

Encouraging a Friend with Chronic Illness

Sharing Words of Encouragement

You can offer words of encouragement in many different ways. You can speak to your friend in-person or over the phone. You can give encouragement in a written form, such as a card, email, text message, or note on Facebook. Cards are a beautiful gift that can be kept, held, and read again and again. Text messages have the benefit of arriving instantly. If you know your friend is having a hard day, you can send a text to give some instant cheer. If she is undergoing a difficult medical test or procedure that day, you can send a text to let her know that you are thinking of her and praying for her at that very moment. However you choose to communicate with your friend, it will be appreciated!

Maybe you struggle to know what to say to a friend. Her particular illness or suffering may be something you have never experienced, and you might feel ill-equipped to offer encouragement in such a situation. Here are some things you can communicate to your friend, either verbally or in writing, that will be encouraging to her: 
  • Let her know that you are thinking of her.
  • Tell her that you are praying for her. You can also share the specifics of what you are praying for her.
  • Share ways that you have been encouraged by her.
  • Share something you have learned from her, either by her words or her example.
  • Write out a favorite Scripture verse.
  • Share a poem or song lyrics.
  • Tell her something that happened that made you think of her.
  • Share about what God has been teaching you through His Word.

Giving a Gift

One other way to encourage a friend with a chronic illness is to give a gift. Whether the gift is small or large, it will be a tangible reminder that someone cares and is thinking of her. This is especially appreciated on the hard days, homebound days, or days spent in a hospital. When your friend is alone and struggling, holding, seeing, or using a gift from you will encourage her. Some specific gift ideas are:

I have received gifts from friends over the years, and those gifts have always been so special and appreciated. I haven't blogged about most of the gifts, but here are two times when I did blog about gifts I received. These might provide further ideas for how to encourage a friend through your words and/or gifts.

Let's hear from you!

What other ideas do you have for specific ways to encourage someone with a chronic illness? You are welcome to share your ideas with us in the comments! We can learn from each other so that we can better encourage those in our lives.

“Encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." 1 Thessalonians 5:11

This post is part of the Chronic Illness and Friendship series.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Visiting a Friend with Chronic Illness

Visiting a Friend with Chronic Illness

Here in Minnesota I have been so blessed to have a friend who comes to visit me in my home every week. MaryAnne has been visiting me regularly ever since we moved to Minnesota 2 ½ years ago, and I appreciate it so much. We like to have tea together each week, but we aren’t usually as fancy as you see in the picture above. The fancy occasion was rare and called for a picture! Usually I am lying on the sofa in yoga pants and a t-shirt, without a bit of makeup.

This year I haven’t been able to have tea each week because I have been too low on strength and energy. So we drink ice water instead. Some days I am too tired and brain fogged to do much talking, but MaryAnne doesn’t mind. She comes anyway. She sits and talks with me while I lie down on the sofa, messy hair and all. It is always good to have my friend with me.

Visiting Your Friend

Do you have a friend with a chronic illness? Your friend would probably love to visit with you! Here are some suggestions for how to approach visiting a friend with a chronic illness. First, ask if she is feeling up for it. If she is, then ask what day and time would be best for her. It would also be helpful to ask how long of a visit is good for her. If she is especially sick, then a short visit may be best.

If your friend isn’t up for in-person visits, you can send an occasional email or text message just to let her know that she is in your thoughts and that you care about her. Visiting through email or text messages might be easier for her if she is especially sick. It isn’t the same as an in-person visit, but it will be appreciated. Just knowing that she hasn’t been forgotten will be a blessing and an encouragement.

You can also invite a friend with a chronic illness over to your house. Don’t be afraid to extend an invitation. She can always decline if she knows that she isn’t well enough for an outing. Even if she is very tired, she may enjoy getting out of her house and having a change of scenery for a short time. A different couch and different walls can be a wonderful thing! 

Visiting a friend with a chronic illness doesn’t have to happen only in the home. You can invite your friend to attend a Bible study with you, go out for lunch, go shopping, or go to a movie! Those of us with chronic illnesses enjoy a lot of the same things you do, though it may be harder for us to do them. Ask your friend if there is something you can do to make an outing possible or easier for her.

Here are some things you could offer to do for your friend to help make an outing possible:
  • drive her to the event or activity.
  • arrive early so that she can find the seat that will best accommodate her needs.
  • leave the event early if that would be best for her.
  • push her in a wheelchair if she needs one.
  • let her stay in her seat while you get food, drinks, etc. for her.
  • if she is weak and needs assistance from a walker or wheelchair, offer to help her in and out of the bathroom. Bathroom doors are heavy, and it can be exhausting to try to hold a door open while wheeling through.

Helpful Tip:

If you are trying to decide whether or not to send an invitation for a party to your friend with a chronic illness, always send the invitation! Even if you think she can’t come, sending the invitation lets her know that she is welcome and that you would love to have her there if she is feeling well enough. I have a friend who regularly invites me to a mom’s group that meets once a month. I have never been able to go, but I always appreciate the invitation. It lets me know that I am welcome and that I am wanted.

Let's hear from you!

If you have a chronic illness, what could a friend offer you that would make a visit or an outing easier for you? Are there any other tips regarding visits that you can share with us?

This post is part of the Chronic Illness and Friendship series.
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