How to Help a Sick Friend

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A few months before my mother died, someone bought us a  gong (someone else bought us a pretty painted tambourine, but that’s another story). The gong was sent because we were having a problem with people coming over to visit and staying too long. And by too long, I mean for four hours.

I will be the first to say that we really really appreciated all the love and support we got from our community, and visitors were incredibly important to keeping my whole family—not just my mother—from going crazy during the horrific business of dying. Still, it could get overwhelming. Also, this might be rude, but we like some people more than others. A lot more. And when some of the less fun people came over to chat and stayed for more than about twenty minutes, I found myself getting a wee bit stabby. My mother could legitimately take a nap or close her eyes in the middle of a conversation. I did not really have that option. So, a friend sent over a gong, and when we’d had enough of the hordes of visitors, we banged the gonged and ushered people out. I think we only did this once, but people got the point, and started shortening their visits to a more manageable length.

The gong was one of a few things we picked up that made life easier. In case you’re wondering, we were also fans of:
Google Docs spreadsheets that allowed our friends to coordinate who was bringing us dinner. Takethemameal.com does it even better.
Caringbridge.org, a website that allows you to share information about how someone is doing with a select audience. We used it to update our friends and family on my mother’s status, and to post things like details about when people can come over to visit.
Healingthreads.com –clothes designed for people who have post-surgical drains. This seemed like a strange thing to buy and quickly became indispensable.
Heatpads that stay hot—when she was in pain my mom liked these heating pads that stay hot for a long time, and can easily be reheated.

And if you have a friend or relative who is seriously sick I strongly recommend The Awl’s Actually Awesome Things to Say to a Cancer Patient and the New York Times’ You Look Great and Other Lies, a list of things to never say, and other things TO say to those in the throes of illness.

We at MJL have our own very comprehensive list. It’s a useful and important thing to reread every six months or so.

Posted on June 15, 2011

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