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25 Ways to Help A Sick Loved One With a Long-Term or Terminal Illness

Updated on March 29, 2012

The illness of a loved one is one of life's most stressful events. Watching someone you care about suffer is often made more difficult by a sense of personal powerlessness over the situation. Short of praying for a miracle, what can you do to help your loved one who has been diagnosed with a chronic or terminal condition? Though it's not possible to change a health malady or the physical and emotional pain it causes, there are small ways you can help lessen the burden of an illness for both the sick individual and the caregiver.

Looking for a way to help out a sick friend? Yard work is a great service.
Looking for a way to help out a sick friend? Yard work is a great service. | Source

25 Suggestions for Helping the Sick and Those Who Take Care of Them

• Clean the sick person's home or the home of the caregiver. While flowers and balloons may bring a bit of cheer, it's practical gifts like this that can really make a difference. The caregiver's energy may be depleted from the physical, mental and emotional strain of looking after an ill loved one. Not having to worry about daily chores can be a great blessing. Let the caregiver know when you are available to clean and what chores you will be performing. Even just vacuuming or doing laundry is a big help, if you can't do the whole house. Solicit the help of others in the family or friends to divide up the chores so one person doesn't get bogged down. Be sure to ask the caregiver what chores he or she would like you to do and when would be a convenient time.

• Do yard work. Mowing grass, weedeating, harvesting a garden and other outdoor chores can be time consuming, tiresome and expensive, if the work is hired out. Offer your services free of charge.

• Carry in food that the caregiver may not have the time or energy to cook. Someone who is very ill may get sick at the smell of food cooking, so preparing food at your home or picking up food from a restaurant and delivering it can be a great way to help. Ask the caregiver what the sick person can and can't eat.

• Provide gift cards to grocery stores and restaurants. Medical bills and supplies will likely become a financial drain. Money to buy necessities such as groceries will be appreciated.

• Offer to sit with your sick loved one while the caregiver goes out to buy groceries, get a haircut and take care of other tasks.

• Encourage the caregiver to take a break. Buy a gift certificate for a massage, pedicure or other spa treatment and sit with the sick loved one while the caregiver gets some much-deserved relaxation. Take the caregiver to a movie, play, concert or just out to dinner and make arrangements for a responsible person to sit with the sick person while you are away.

• Bring in a basket of DVDs. These can be purchased for $5 or less each at discount retail store like Walmart. Or pay for a subscription to Blockbuster By Mail or Netflix. Being cooped up at home in bed or on the couch can be crazy-making. Movies may be a welcome escape for someone who's confined to the house.

• Pray for the sick person and those who are providing his or her care. Ask others to pray. Whatever spiritual practices you have, incorporate your care and concern for these people into those practices and turn over these concerns to God, the Universe, or whatever higher power you believe in. Prayer can provide comfort and reduce stress and worry that can create fear and often keep you from being of service to those who need you most. A prayer for healing may not be answered the way you want, but there is something ultimately calming about recognizing we are not in control. Pray to know what you can do to be of service and pray for any small measure of comfort available to be sent to all those impacted by this illness.

• If you do not pray, or just want an additional spiritual practice to incorporate, practice visualizing the sick person surrounded in soothing, healing light of whatever color you find comforting - white, purple, pink. Or meditate on that person. Take in peace, comfort, relief from suffering, etc., on his or her behalf on the in breath. Blow out, imagining you are sending these things to your loved one, on the out breath.

• Find a calming relaxation CD to give to the sick person or caregiver to listen to when agitated or unable to sleep.

• Purchase gas cards as gifts or offer to help with transportation to doctors' appointments.

• If the ill person is capable and enjoys such activities, bring games, cards, puzzles and audio books and CDs to occupy time and provide a positive distraction.

Those with serious health conditions may take numerous medications. Offering to help sort medicines into pill boxes and write down days and times meds are due can help caregivers.
Those with serious health conditions may take numerous medications. Offering to help sort medicines into pill boxes and write down days and times meds are due can help caregivers. | Source

• Bring a gift basket full of practical items that will be needed during everyday care, such as rubbing alcohol, cotton balls, over-the-counter medications and vitamins, a pillbox, tissues and any other essentials.

• Offer to help the caregiver sort medications and keep track of doctors' appointments and medication schedules on a calendar or in a notebook. Also, offer to attend doctors' appointments solely to take notes. Go as a concerned party but keep emotions at bay and do not ask questions or get involved in the discussion unless your loved one asks you to. instead, be there merely as a reporter gathering information and instructions to be used by the caregiver later.

• Organize a support network among family, friends, church members and co-workers. Have volunteers commit to performing certain tasks at specific times, for example, sending a card every Monday, bringing in food every Friday, etc. This will ensure that the family is consistently receiving assistance but no one person is bearing the entire responsibility.

• Offer to pet sit while the person is at doctors' appointments or in the hospital, or on a more long-term basis, to alleviate the stress of animal care.

• Offer to be the point person to provide updates to extended family and friends via phone, email or Facebook. Dozens of phone calls and emails a day can be overwhelming for the caregiver and consume time needed to attend to the ill person or take a much-needed rest.

• If the person does not have curbside garbage pick up, offer to take trash to the nearest recycling center each week.

• Give comfy pajamas or a nightgown, house shoes or robe.

• During hospital stays, bring a gift basket of snacks like peanut butter crackers, trail mix, apples and chips, as well as hard candy and gum, along with tissues, lotion, crossword puzzles and magazines for family members keeping vigil.

• A store-bought card is thoughtful, but a hand-made card, especially one created by a child, means so much more. Let your child know that a family member or friend is sick and ask if he or she would like to help cheer them up. If so, suggest your child create a drawing, make a card or do a craft project for that person.

• Write down as many good memories and positive qualities about the sick person and/or caretaker as you can think of and have others do the same. Write one memory or quality per slip of paper, then deposit those slips of paper into a decorative box or jar. Try to have enough so that that your loved one can draw one slip of paper out per day for several months. This can be a reminder of the good times and how much people care. It may also stir up sadness and longing for days of good health, so think carefully before deciding whether this is an appropriate gift.

• During extended hospital stays, offer to stay overnight to relive the caregiver. If you can't stay overnight, offer to stay for several hours while the caregiver goes home to get a shower, run errands or take a nap.

• Offer free childcare. If you are a trusted and responsible adult and close family member or friend, take children of the sick person or caregiver to school, sporting events, movies and other outings, and volunteer to prepare meals for the children.

• Say I love you, even if it's uncomfortable. If you mean it, say it. Don't say it casually or flippantly. Look the person in the eyes and say it with your whole heart. Lost time cannot be regained, but it's not too late to say 'I love you,' even if you've never told that person before. Keep saying it to all those you love, sick and healthy. Life is short and love is all that really counts, and all that really endures.

© 2012 Crystal Tatum


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    • Crystal Tatum profile imageAUTHOR

      Crystal Tatum 

      7 years ago from Georgia

      Wow, what a story. How wonderful that your mother knew of your care and concern for her when she died. Making sacrifices for those we love isn't easy, but I'm sure it's worth it. Thanks for stopping by.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      7 years ago from Beautiful South

      This is an excellent hub and I hope that people follow your suggestions if they are unfortunate enough to have need to. It brings back memories of the 10 short, but last, years of my mom’s life before she died of colon cancer. My brother and I both live in the same town 100 miles from where she lived. She refused to move to be near us, and we couldn’t quit our jobs to be near her. I pretty much bore the burden the first four years of her care when it was needed, but he never forgot and rewarded me for it. Then I was in a city bus rollover that left me mobile, but partially disabled. When she did become too weak to keep up with her daily activities, he took over her heavier housekeeping chores, including vacuuming and mopping floors. I visited often enough to do her grocery shopping and relieve her at cooking. Then when it became obvious that chemo was no longer working and she chose to discontinue it, I arranged for her home hospice care and meals on wheels, and communicated with her care-giving agencies. She did pass away in the hospital, knowing that she was loved and cared for by her children.

      One other thing, mom had a member of her church who wanted to learn to crochet. She took mom for her chemo treatments and mom gave her crochet lessons while it was being administered. Voted you up++.

    • Crystal Tatum profile imageAUTHOR

      Crystal Tatum 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for stopping by rebeccamealey!

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      8 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      This is an excellent reference list for ideas on how to help when a friend or neighbor is down and out or sick.Thanks!

    • Crystal Tatum profile imageAUTHOR

      Crystal Tatum 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for the vote and the share, Happyboomernurse! I think these are tough issues to discuss, because no one really wants to be in this position - either the sick one or the caretaker - but most of us will experience both, if we're lucky to live that long, so it's good to be prepared.

    • Crystal Tatum profile imageAUTHOR

      Crystal Tatum 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you 2patricias. I think it's difficult to understand just what it's like to be sick or have sickness in the family if you've never been there personally. Sometimes people come to visit and stay a couple of hours with a sick person, for example, in hopes of bringing cheer, but not realizing such a long stay can be exhausting. These are things no one ever talks about, but they're very important issues. Thanks so much for the visit and the share!

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 

      8 years ago from South Carolina

      You have given many specific suggestions that others may not think about and which can make a big difference in the life of a sick loved one.

      I thought it was great that you also included things that could be done for the caregivers. As you mentioned, caregivers are under as much stress, and sometimes even more stress, than their loved one.

      Voted up across the board except for funny, and shared.

    • 2patricias profile image


      8 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Your suggestions are all very thoughtful.

      I know that prayer is truly helpful - I'm always sad when I hear people doubting the power of prayer.

      Tasks which a well person (with a well family) might take for granted, or consider easy become major undertakings when somebody is long-term sick.

      Thanks so much for this hub - which I am sharing.

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      What a very thoughtful hub. My elderly father has cancer and is partially both deaf and blind so I read this with him and my mother in mind.

      You have given so many suggestions for way to support that although not all your apply in every case, there will be some suggestions here for anyone in this this situation.

      I love your last suggestion best of all. And hugs are a great way to show this too, whenever possible.

      Voted up and sharing this!

    • Crystal Tatum profile imageAUTHOR

      Crystal Tatum 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Sadie 14 thanks for reading! I think sometimes the caregiver suffers just as much as the person who is sick. In fact, I recently did an article about caregiving for elderly folks, and was told by a staff member of a personal care home that when the patients arrive, they are often in better shape than their caregivers.

    • Sadie14 profile image

      Brittany B 

      8 years ago from U.S.

      Great hub! All of this stuff is soooo helpful when someone is sick. When my grandma had cancer she appreciated all of the food and help that people brought. It's also great that you thought of things to do for the caregiver also to show your apprecation.

    • Crystal Tatum profile imageAUTHOR

      Crystal Tatum 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks billybuc. Alzheimer's is such a devastating disease, for the sufferer and also for family and friends. It's so hard to know what someone needs most, but if we just do our best and listen when they do tell us, that's something. I'm sure your friend appreciates you and all you do.

    • Crystal Tatum profile imageAUTHOR

      Crystal Tatum 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Lawrence Da-vid, you're right, emotional support can be the most beneficial kind. I think often people who are sick are so concerned about burdening their families that they keep those emotions and concerns inside. Just listening, if they care to talk, without trying to offer false hope or cheer them up, is invaluable.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 years ago from Olympia, WA

      All excellent suggestions! My best friend is fifty and has Alzheimer's and it is an ugly way to die and I feel helpless, but his attitude about life is great and I just do what I can to help him through his days. Great hub and thank you young lady!

    • Lawrence Da-vid profile image

      Lawrence Da-vid 

      8 years ago

      Being with a terminally ill loved one is difficult at best. Just being there for them is a start. Showing care, consderation, love, compassion. Medically, chemicals issued by a physician may ease the direct pain of illness, but mentally, no medication for the exception of over-dosing of morphine, or enducing coma, will cease the concern of the coming end. Be there to and absorb their ramblings. They're afraid....angry.....actually physically scared to death about what's coming. The end. Finis. Gone. That's a tough thing to understand, even with the most logical mind. Even with a long term illness that may or may not end in "crossing over," one can be there in support ... assuring them of wellness.....that you'll be there until and when they get better. Show support.


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