Doesn’t it seem like there is so much illness and death in the world today? It’s as if there’s another shooting or terrible event on the news every morning. I see so many pleas for donations on my Facebook newsfeed for friends who have sick relatives and friends. I know that many are struggling to support the people they love who have been recently diagnosed with an illness, or be there for those who have recently lost a loved one, for example. Or, perhaps you are dealing with grief and suffering yourself. How do you deal with illness and death in your life? How do you take care of yourself and take care of those around you without feeling overwhelmed?
One thing that can be very helpful to remember is that everyone deals with illness and death differently. What helps you cope with the stress may not be helpful for someone else. For example, you may have heard of the five stages of grief and loss: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Individuals commonly go through these stages but not everyone goes through these stages in the same order or in the same way.
This doesn’t mean that if someone chooses to cope with the pain of losing someone they love by drinking excessively, we should just nod our heads and say, “This is how this person is choosing to deal with their pain.” Turning to alcohol or other self-destructive behaviors to numb pain is not a healthy way of coping with suffering and grief. Focus instead on ways to cope that lead you towards healing—and get help the help you need to do so, because it’s out there!
When you are dealing with illness or loss, it can be tempting to isolate yourself from those around you. If you are a caregiver for someone with an illness, you might be so busy taking care of that person that you forget to take time for yourself. Or, you might not want to be with other people when you are feeling sad or in pain. However, spending time with uplifting and supportive friends and family is an important and healthy way to cope with illness and loss.
Your friends and family can encourage you, help you when you need a break, and can support you as you deal with these difficult things. For example, a friend can offer to babysit or cook you a meal. If your friend is the one dealing with an illness or loss, you can be the one to offer to help.
Often, when people see their friends or family members going through a difficult time, they want to help but are unsure exactly how they can do so. The simple answer to this question is to just ask. Ask your friend or family member what could really help them during a rough patch. Just the simple act of asking lets them know that you care and that you are there for them.
Another simple way to be there for a friend or family member is to just listen. You don’t know how much they will appreciate your listening ear. It seems so simple, and you might feel like you should be making a grander gesture to show your support—but listening is incredibly powerful. Knowing that you are there to listen to what they are saying and care about them and what they are going through shows how much you care about them. Just hearing a friend ask, “How are you doing?” can be a breath of fresh air when you are worrying about bills or time or treatment options.
And finally, if you see that your friend is really struggling to cope with illness or loss, you can always gently encourage them to seek professional help. Whether that’s getting in touch with a trusted priest or minister or going to see a psychotherapist, these professionals can help your friend develop healthy coping strategies and offer additional support during difficult times. Your care for your friend will not go unnoticed.
Going through illness or loss can be a lonely time for someone. Having a friend check in and ask, “How are you?” and “What can I do to help?” makes the journey a lot less lonely. Don’t be afraid to reach out and help a friend.
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