How to support a sick friend

(Also refer to the article by Glynis Horning published in LIFE magazine, Winter 2015 where Erasmustherapy was quoted).

People often feel unsure how to support a friend that is sick, in hospital, has a degenerative disease or is dying. Know that it really makes a difference and means a lot to your friend if you do reach out.

People are generally not consoled by remarks like “It could have been worse”, or “Everything happens for a reason”, or “Let me tell you what happened to someone else I know…” Just let your friend share with you how she feels and give her permission to feel so, even if you think she should not feel like that.

It is okay to talk about the illness. You can share some tears with your friend, it will give recognition to his feelings as well. Otherwise your friend can feel all alone with his feelings.

Confirm that they are special and precious to you.

You can even say you don’t know what to do or say to make it better, but you just want to be there for them.

Make sure you talk TO them and not only to others ABOUT them.


In her book How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick, breast cancer survivor Letty CottinPogrebin says everyone should be able to say three things to a friend: ‘Tell me what’s helpful and what’s not’, ‘Tell me if you want to be alone and when you want company,’ and ‘Tell me what to bring and when to leave.’ And there are seven things, she says, which sick friends want to hear:

  1. ‘I’m so sorry this happened to you.’
  2. ‘Tell me how I can help.’
  3. ‘I’m here if you want to talk.’
  4. ‘Just give me my marching orders.’
  5. ‘That sounds awful; I can’t even imagine the pain.’
  6. ‘I’m bringing dinner.’
  7. ‘You must be desperate for some quiet time. I’ll take your kids on Saturday.’

If a friend is dying, you don’t have to avoid the topic. People who are dying think about it and a lot of times need to talk about it.

Tell them that you love them all the time – unconditionally. If you don’t you will regret it later that you didn’t.