Immediately after my heart attack, I appreciated kind-hearted friends and family who said: “Just call me if there’s anything at all that I can do for you!”
But as well-meaning as those offers were, I knew deep down in my heart of hearts that I was NOT likely to call them to ask about certain things I needed help with, like:
“Can you please come over and change the kitty litter?”
As those who don’t like asking others for help can attest, that request was just never going to happen.
Asking for – and accepting – help can be difficult. By comparison, I found it truly helpful when people phoned and said something like: “I’m at the grocery store – what can I pick up for you while I’m here?”
Lisa Coppen has had lots of firsthand experience in what’s helpful to those living with chronic illness – and what’s not so helpful.* She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 24, and then later with fibromyalgia. As a result of her diagnoses, she became the founder of both Rest Ministries and Invisible Illness Week.
She once asked her Twitter followers this question:*
“What would be a good thing to say to a sick person?”
Here are just ten examples of what the helpful Twitterverse of patients recommended:
1. I don’t know what to say, but I care about you.
2. Do you just need to vent? I’m all ears.
3. I really admire how you are handling this. I know it’s difficult.
4. I’m bringing dinner Thursday. Do you want lasagna or chicken?
5. Can I get your kids for a play date? My kids are bored.
6. I can’t sit still. Got any laundry I can fold?
7. I saw these flowers and thought they’d cheer you up today.
8. I have Monday free if you need me to run some errands or drive you somewhere.
9. Do you want me to come over while you wait for test results?
10. You are amazing!
“Like most loving gestures, it really is the thought that counts and is healing. Not all of the suggestions sent to Lisa would suit me and maybe not you either, but it doesn’t matter.
“Helping healthy people be more comfortable approaching a sick friend or a friend who cares for a sick child, spouse or parent is a wonderful concept.
“It can be so awkward when we don’t know what to say. Will I intrude on her privacy? Maybe I’ll offend her by presuming she needs help. This hesitation can take days and weeks and before you know it our friend or their loved one is either better or dying. Either way, we’ve lost an opportunity.”
Such wise advice, Dr. A! So go ahead. Text, email, call, or leave a note (along with the flowers) on the front porch. Step up. Make that loving gesture.
Q: What kind of specific offers to help stood out for you as a patient?
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote much more about both accepting and offering help in Chapter 4 of my book, “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017).
* I first encountered Lisa Coppen’s name in 2009 when, coincidentally, she and I along with 18 other women were named by ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ of Boston for their inaugural Women’s Health Heroes awards for those “who make significant contributions to the health and well-being of women.” ♥
Q: What is most helpful to you when you’re feeling sick?
- When you’re about to become a hospital patient
- What (not) to say when you’re visiting the sick
- Empathy 101: how to sound like you give a damn
- “You look great!” – and other things you should never say to heart patients
- But You Don’t Look Sick
- “I care about you” and other things to say to sick friends
- ‘Healthy Privilege’ – when you just can’t imagine being sick