When a family member, close friend or co-worker  receives a serious diagnosis or needs to undergo surgery, chemotherapy, or other treatments, people often rally around with support. They offer to bring food, provide rides to doctor’s appointments, watch the kids, etc.  While grateful for all the offers, most people are still overwhelmed by trying to keep their network informed of medical progress, juggling responsibilities at work, and coordinating  the needed help, all in the midst of the intense emotional and physical drain of the situation.   

You can help alleviate that stress. There are several ways  you can provide support that is different than what most people do. For example: 

Create a hospital “care package.” Families are often reluctant to leave their loved one’s room when they visit, even if the patient is asleep. Yet hospital air is dry and there is little to do. Create a care package that includes bottles of water and juice, and snacks like protein bars, almonds, chocolates, and pretzels.  Add puzzle books like crosswords or Sudoku  (with a couple of pencils), and two or three magazines for light reading. If the patient is well enough for visitors, make a brief visit yourself and deliver the package. If not, call a family member to get a time when you can drop it off at the home.      

Form a team of friends and other family members to do errands or work that needs to be done. Examples: Mow their lawn. Pick up dry cleaning. Arrange for house cleaning. Make phone calls. Anything the family needs that you can provide.             

Create a one-page list of resources for the patient’s immediate family to use. Do research to find local resources, and also include services such as these free web sites:   

  • www.TakeThemaMeal.com.  This is a comprehensive meal organization site. The family creates a private online sign-up sheet,  friends sign up for specific days and times, and they receive automatic reminders. The site includes a range of recipes for foods that transport well. It also has the option of purchasing items from their store of prepared meals and foods that can be sent directly to the family.  Similar sites include www.Mealtrain.com and www.caringmeals.com. 
  • www.CareCalendar.org. This is a donor-supported ministry whose site is used to coordinate meals as well as other types of help, such as taking children to their activities or doing yard work. One person or team takes charge of monitoring the calendar. The family lists what help they need and when, and those who can assist sign up. The site sends reminder emails and allows the family to upload photos and post update messages.  Similar sites include www.LotsaHelpingHands.com and www.CareFlash.com 
  • www.CaringBridge.org.  This provides a way to communicate with many people at once. After the family creates their private personalized  Caring Bridge site,  a process that takes only a couple of minutes,  friends, co-workers, colleagues,  and family register on it. Everyone who is registered receives an email whenever the family posts something – i.e. the results of the latest tests, how it’s going that day, or whatever they wish to communicate.  Everyone at work and in the friendship circle is updated without the necessity of making countless phone calls or repeating the story endlessly. Those who are registered can then reply on the site if they choose, and the family can read the messages when it is convenient, saving or deleting them as they desire.   

Spare the people you care about the legwork by providing resources like these. Depending on your relationship, you may even wish to participate in offering practical help to the immediate family.  Regardless, let them know you care by providing concrete assistance at a tough time.

Originally published in Huffington Post in May 23, 1917


  • Amy Florian

    Author of "No Longer Awkward" and "A Friend Indeed: Help Those You Love When They Grieve". CEO, speaker, Thanatologist, teacher on grief and life transitions.

    Amy Florian is a nationally recognized speaker and teacher who uses her personal experience of being widowed along with the best of current research for her engaging and dynamic presentations and writings. She holds a Master’s Degree and is a Fellow in Thanatology (the highest level of certification in the field of death and grief studies). She founded Corgenius, a company that teaches professionals how to better serve people in times of transition and loss, and still facilitates a widowed support group she co-founded in 1988. She taught for almost ten years in the graduate department of Loyola University in Chicago, as well in the undergraduate departments at three other universities. Amy has published over one hundred articles and three books, and has a passion for helping people heal and live fully.