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How to Support Your Chronically Ill Friend and Their Partner

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It’s almost guaranteed with how common chronic illnesses are that someone you know and love is living with one. It might be challenging to know what to do to help your friend through what they may make seem like no big deal to them. After all, they live with it every day. The same must go for their partner. If living with someone with a chronic illness, it must be like mastering a video game – they know all of the special cheat codes to make things go smoothly.


But this is almost never the case. There are three simple tips to being a better friend to someone with a chronic illness and their partner. Let me emphasize partner again because they need an outlet and support just as much. Hopefully this will make for a stronger friendship for all parties involved.

1. Continue well wishes and moral support once your friend leaves the hospital. It feels good for someone who is chronically ill to get “we’re thinking about you” and all of those lovely types of messages when we are in the hospital. Generally though, the moment we get out, those messages completely stop. Except now there is no medical staff distracting us by how completely overwhelmed we are by our health. Now we’re home, perhaps almost as sick as pre-hospitalization, recuperating and receiving no messages of encouragement or well wishes when actually the week or so after the hospital stay is often when it’s really needed the most.

We’re still very sick, yet now have no support system. We just want to know people are still there, and no, we probably don’t have the energy to reach out – we’re super sick. Sometimes it’s a challenge enough to check email. If you have a moment just to send a note to let your friend know you are still there; it can completely turn a day around.

2. Ask your friend and their partner how they are doing and mean it. Meaningful conversations seem rare in general these days. When we’re asked how we’re doing, it seems like a trap. It’s hard to respond to that because we’ve all had people ask that in a polite manner, and then their eyes glaze over when a real answer is provided. You might need to ask with a follow up of “I really want to know.” If you don’t want to know how we’re doing, please don’t ask. We’re already sick, no need to add socially self-conscious to that too. Also, partners need friend outlets too. They can’t vent their frustration and sadness to their already sick loved one, so it helps to have outside support available even if it’s just to take their mind off the recent stressful event they’ve been through.

3. Just because someone is chronically ill and gets hospitalized a lot never makes it normal to them. We never get used to it. It’s not an “Oh, you were in again, OK.” It is always scary. It is always traumatizing for many of us and our loved ones. It can take days and weeks to get through what just happened to hope it doesn’t turn around and happen all over again.

People who are chronically ill do not get hospitalized under mild circumstances. Think of how bad things have to be for a generally well person to be hospitalized. We’re at that level of scary sick, but just more often. Be cognizant that this generally means fun plans can’t happen mere days after a hospital stay. You wouldn’t expect your grandma who just got out of the hospital with pneumonia to go out to eat. Younger chronically ill people can’t do that either. Have realistic expectations of us and know we likely feel just as awful about cancelled plans.

How does this all tie together? It’s really just about compassion and leaning towards your strengths when your friend and their partner may need extra support. Perhaps make your friend a meal while they aren’t feeling well, and in turn they can listen to your frustrations about work. Know they will remember your kindness when so many disappear and can be amazing advocates should you ever go through challenging times yourself.

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Thinkstock photo via Martinan.

Originally published: August 10, 2017
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