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June 3, 2015

5 Little Ways to Hugely Help Those with Chronic Illness

I recently shared three ways that chronic illness is painfully isolating and lonely. It was an attempt to give an honest glimpse of what my life--and the lives of thousands of others like me--is like.

Now I'd like to share what you can do to help your loved ones living with chronic illness. As I write this, I feel like this list is a no-brainer. Yet that may be the case simply because I'm on this end of the issue. Either way, I hope this list falls into the hands of people who want to help those with chronic illness and aren't sure what they can do.

Now, I do have to put out there first: this list is intended for people who truly care. Don't let this list guilt you into saying things or doing things you ought to do just because I'm saying them. While the little things are priceless, because-I-should offers or comments aren't really helpful. If you truly don't care, then don't pretend to, and if you do, please show it.

A very well-meaning someone asked me once, "What can we do to make you feel better?" as if there were a way to fix it all. I was so thrown off by the unfamiliar question that answering with, "Just pray," didn't even seem right. So I gave the honest answer: "Nothing." There's nothing you can do to make things all better, but you can do so many little things to help along the way--and those little things are priceless.

1 - If you pray for them, say so. I don't want to say that praying alone does no good, because of course it does. But it does twice as much good if you actually let the person know you're praying for them. Praying for them but never saying so--particularly saying nothing at all--leaves the ill person with the understandable though incorrect assumption that you don't care or haven't noticed their suffering at all. Be it in person, through a Facebook message, or by snail mail, please let them know if you are praying for them.

2 - Mail is underrated. Speaking of snail mail, the old classic is still just as meaningful now as it was long before the Internet existed. Sending your ill loved one a card, a package, any little something out of the blue is so meaningful. And it tends to arrive right when they need it most. I have a friend who sent me a necklace and a note out of the blue a few months ago, and she could have sent me a smiley face on a post-it note and I would have been just as happy--the gesture alone meant so much to me. (You know who you are! :)

3 - Reach out first. We the sick are aware that our life happenings aren't exactly pleasant to hear about. For that reason, we're going to have a select few people that we tell our happenings to. We're not going to dump it all--or even a small fraction of it--on just anybody. I'm not going to just volunteer the information on how I'm doing, how much pain I'm in, how upset I am about upcoming tests, how rude a doctor was to me, etc., simply because things like that are just selfish to unload on anyone. Yet I do want to talk about it. If you want to know how I, or any of your chronically ill loved ones are doing--like really doing-- you have to ask. And there's a good chance they're wanting you to.

4 - Please ask questions. Along those same lines--yes, ask questions! "How are you?" is the most vague, impersonal thing you can ask. We are all trained to say "Fine" to that, an option I tend to go with simply because it's easier and/or I know the person asking doesn't really want to know the full answer to that. But if you do want to know, then by all means ask!

And beyond that, if there is anything you're curious about or confused about, please feel free to ask! Any questions show that you care and want to understand. Don't just sit at home wondering something--you'll be able to stop wondering and also encourage the person in the process by your interest.

5 - Donate. Offering to clean, pick up groceries, or drive your ill friend to the doctor are just a few ways to donate your time that are a huge deal to the ones receiving your help. And while I know I said the little things are extremely helpful, I have to include one big one: Chronic illness is expensive. I don't even want to know how much money has gone into my medical expenses just in the three years we've been married. But I do know how much my initial upcoming tests and treatment are costing--and those have been made possible by the grace of God in the form of a few very generous family members. As I have said to someone before in regards to donations, I don't turn down free money. As much as I wish we didn't need help coming up with thousands of dollars, I realize that it's God's way of providing the money. And if you know someone who's sick and facing medical bills, you too may be the way God provides that money--even if seems like a small amount to you. It doesn't have to be big at all. Every little bit helps and is felt so deeply.

There are certainly many more ways that could be included on this list, but these are the main ones that stand out to me. Want to go even deeper? I recommend these posts by Rebecca at Caravan Sonnet: 12 Things to Pray for Someone Struggling with a Chronic Health Condition and 17 Ways to Help a Friend with Chronic Illness During the Holidays, the latter of which can also be more broadly applied to all year long.

So if you have a chronically ill loved one and have ever felt at a loss of how to help, I hope this list has given you some insight. We know you can't make everything all better, and we don't expect you to. We simply need to be reminded that you care and that you're with us in this very lonely struggle. It is truly the little things you can do that help keep us going.

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1 comment:

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