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.


  1. Honestly, just saying "hello" by phone, text, email can be really huge for someone who is chronically ill. Merely knowing that you crossed someone's mind can make a huge difference when you're fighting for your life. If you do offer to help, sometimes it's better to not actually "offer". Instead, TELL the chronically ill friend that you're coming over and plan to do _____ (whatever help you will be doing for them). Even loading the dishwasher can be overwhelming (hello dysautotonomia! :). Some friends need the help but will never ask.

  2. Hi Mary, thanks for sharing! You are so right that a greeting by phone, text, or email can be a huge thing, especially when homebound or in the hospital. A message to let you know that you aren't forgotten is a great encouragement.

    Knowing how to offer help (or how to ask for help!) is such a tricky thing. There are various levels of comfort for asking and giving. What one person finds helpful, another person might find to be too pushy and an invasion of privacy. I hope that this series on chronic illness and friendship will start some helpful among the chronically ill and their friends. Hopefully we will all learn to better understand and support each other.


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