Nothing quite prepares you for when you find out someone you love is ill. One of the first things we’re often called to do is find a way to help, but rarely do we know exactly what to do. Helping can come with all kinds of complications — we don’t want to step on toes; we don’t want to say the wrong things or to pressure a friend into receiving a gift they don’t want or to bother them at a vulnerable moment.
And yet doing something does matter. Your friend is likely scared, confused and unsure of what to do themselves, and even if you’ve offered your help, they’re unlikely to know what to ask for, even if they had the confidence to actually ask.
Most people believe that you need to physically be present in order to be helpful, but the truth of the matter is sometimes your friend will want nothing more than to be left alone. Rather than running to be by their side, here are some ideas for items and services they will actually need and will be super-grateful to have received; and they will appreciate having a friend in their lives that is thoughtful and resourceful.
Give ‘em something to binge on
If your friend has been diagnosed with something that will require a lengthy treatment or a long recovery time, there’s a good chance they will be spending a lot of time inside. Like, a lot. Streaming service to the rescue! You can gift a Netflix subscription pretty easily these days via Amazon or find gift cards at most Target stores. They can invite you over to binge on their favorite or maybe they can just rest with their TV friends. Clear eyes, full hearts, keep streaming.
Your food’s here
Most people think a home-cooked meal is just what the doctor ordered, but if your friend is going through an illness that requires a medication like chemotherapy, it’s likely their tastes will change and they will have aversions to many foods. So before you break out the sheet pan to cook a lasagna the size of your head, consider a delivery service.
While meal subscription deliveries are a nice idea, your friend will likely be too tired to lift the box it comes in, much less chop an onion. Most cities throughout the U.S. now have options like Postmates or Instacart, where your friend can order from a myriad of restaurants that will fit their food cravings, and the best part: No dishes required!
Transportation gift card
Not sure if you’ve noticed, but we are all super-busy these days. From work responsibilities to whatever activities your child might be involved in, there’s barely time to shuttle yourself to and from work, let alone carve out three hours to bring your friend to their numerous doctors appointments and follow-ups, although you will want to.
News flash: Your friend knows this and will most likely feel bad asking for assistance. Rather than everyone feeling guilty about it, why not gift your friend a ride-sharing service. Lyft gift cards do not expire, and you can set the amount you want to give, so if your friend has one surgeon uptown and one downtown, they’re covered, and you know they will always have a ride.
*Knock, knock* Housekeeping!
Let’s be honest here: No one likes to clean. It doesn’t matter if you have a 450-square-foot studio or a three-bedroom house; chasing dust bunnies and folding laundry is usually last on our list of things to do. Add a medical complication on top of that and that vacuum is not going to be touched for quite some time. A quick online geo search will pull up several housekeeping services that you can give to someone. These services can bring everything needed to tidy up your friend’s house, allowing them to focus only on getting better, which can be a full-time job in itself.
This is a Job for the Babysitter’s Club!
In news that is shocking to no one: Having children in any city or town is expensive. The simple task of going out for dinner can add at least another $50 onto your night out (if not more) when you factor in having a babysitter that you trust staying with your children.
While dealing with an illness is nowhere near as relaxing as a night out on the town, your friend will still need someone to look after their children. Waiting rooms are typically soulless places, void of children’s entertainment, so it’s best they leave the kids at home. If your friend already has someone they trust, why not reach out and let them know that you’ll be footing their bill for a while? If they don’t, reach out to your network and see who the beloved teen on the block is. Your friend will be relieved that this is one to-do they can check off their never-ending list.
The bottom line is that we cannot be everywhere at once, even though we want to be. Helping a friend navigate an illness doesn’t always mean being by their side 24 hours a day. A simple gesture or giving a service that will make their life easier in this scary time will always be appreciated and welcomed; it’s always comforting to know they aren’t alone.
A version of this article was originally published in August 2017.