When friends or family members receive a serious health diagnosis, we often struggle to find the right words and responses. Help your loved one through a difficult time by starting with these compassionate and caring steps.
1. Communicate regularly. Support can fade after the shock of a diagnosis wears off, so stay in contact even as the days and months pass. Consider saying: “I’ll call each Wednesday afternoon. If you don’t feel like answering that day, it’s ok, but I’ll keep reaching out unless you tell me to stop.”
2. Be compassionate, but keep your emotions in check. It’s healthy to admit that you are sad or scared about a loved one’s diagnosis, but being overly emotional can cause additional stress. Try to stay composed and supportive in his or her presence.
3. Offer to help in practical, concrete ways. Some people are uncomfortable asking for help, so be specific about what you can do. Rather than saying, “Call if you need anything,” try, “I’m bringing dinner on Monday. Would you like spaghetti or salmon?” or “I’ll pick the kids up from band practice on Thursday” or “I’ll drive you to your treatment appointments.” If you live far away, you might schedule dog-walking services or meal deliveries; if several people want to help, you could coordinate their efforts. (don’t take it personally if someone turns down assistance.)
4. Help tackle the tough stuff. Navigating end-of-life choices is a challenge. Close friends or family members might appreciate help as they complete advance directives, wills or other documents. To offer assistance without adding pressure, suggest that your loved one address those issues early so that he or she can remain positive and focused on fighting illness later.
5. Continue being a friend. As much as possible, enjoy the same activities and conversations that you did before your loved one’s illness. Be a good listener, as well.