Do you wonder how best to interact with people who are sick? Or maybe more to the point what not to say and do? Clearly everyone is different so there are not hard and fast rules but here are a few of my thoughts after 3.5 years of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome an ‘invisible illness’ where most of the time I look healthy. By the way my friends and family have been amazing and I’m finding this quite hard to write because I don’t in any way want this to come across as critical of people I know. Also this is very much a learning process for me too and I often get it wrong. However it is an area I have been told by a few people that it would be helpful if I write about it. So here we go:
- Don’t assume that everyone who looks well is. I know this seems obvious but some small changes in how we communicate can make a big difference to someone who is sick, for example:
- Try to avoid stereotypical comments to people along the lines of: ‘you are young you shouldn’t be sitting in that chair but running in that 10k’;
- Switch from asking people what job they do to asking them how they spend their time. Asking someone who is sick what job they do puts them in a difficult situation. Do they try and move the conversation on and avoid the issue? Or do they make it awkward by saying they can’t work because they are long term sick and then end up having to explain their illness to a stranger? By asking someone how they spend their time it gives them a chance to talk about hobbies or interests and makes it less difficult or upsetting.
- Make messaging regularly a priority: I don’t think many people will ever know how much their message helped me on a dark long day. It’s very easy to worry about what to say and in the end say nothing. However for me just getting any message is wonderful because it makes me feel loved and part of someone’s life even if I can’t interact with them as I did before. My general advice would be: try to message often and about anything and everything. I value the: ‘how can I pray for you today’ messages as much as the funny pictures and cute videos of kids. In fact I have learnt over time that when someone randomly comes into my head it is often the Holy Spirit prompting me to message them because they need it and if I get it wrong then sending someone a message asking ‘how they are’ is not going to do any harm!
- Make a plan how to make a visit beneficial rather than draining. Visits are a huge blessing for me, when church was difficult it was such an encouragement when people came to me. Here are some general tips I would give:
- Come expecting to make your own drink and to wash up afterwards. In other words not to have the person ‘hosting’ you;
- Ask them at the beginning how long they would like you to stay and to tell you if they need you to leave. Even if you say this the person may find it hard to tell you to leave and so try and take subtle clues!
My heart is that we would all be a blessing to those who are sick in our churches and communities. I hope this post has provided some ideas.
- On M.E./CFS there is an excellent short blog piece written by Lucy Mills entitled: FRIENDS WITH ME #MEAWARENESS
- Also I cannot recommend highly enough: ‘The Life You Never Expected’ by Andrew and Rachel Wilson. The best book on suffering I have read and helpful to everyone not just people in their situation of parenting special needs children. There is a short chapter called ‘A note to friends and relatives’ which is their views on the topic covered in this post.