How To: Showing Concern for People with Serious Illness

We all know someone who has gone through a trying medical situation. Surgery, a hospital stay, or someone who’s going through end-of-life-care. Most of us find it hard to know what to do in situations of illness. You want to be helpful - not overbearing. There’s a line to be towed, but you have more of a leash than you realize. In our best attempts to show compassion, we often manage to offer passive support with the following line, “if you need anything, just call.”

This statement ends up putting the ball back in the ill person’s court, rather than yours.

Sure, you’ve offered to help, and that’s so kind of you - but put yourself in their shoes. Try to recall the last time you were sick or in a bind. Then try to remember the last time someone told you if you needed anything to call. Did you do it? If you answered yes, then you’re not the majority. Most people don’t want to inconvenience you or have you go out of the way to help them. Often, you’ll never get a call because asking that question has become cliché.

Next time, you encounter someone with an illness, try these questions:

  • When can I come back to see you?
  • What can I bring you for dinner, Sunday?
  • I’m going to the grocery store Saturday morning; what items can I pick up for you?
  • What time is your next doctor’s appointment? I’d love to drop you off.
  • I’m off next Tuesday evening -  can I come and sit with you?
  • I’m a cleaning whiz! What chores can I help you do?

The aim here is to truly be helpful. If you have a knack for cooking, then cook. If you can organize, then do that. Just remember to always act sincerely. The person you’re helping may have a hard time accepting your help, even though she really needs it. You’ll have a higher success rate at helping her if she knows you’re not going to judge her.

Here’s a resource list for how to show concern to people who are going through serious illness: