Your dear friend tells you that she is very ill, and you are devastated…and, suddenly, after years of close friendship, you are not sure what to say or what to do.

When a loved one is ill, it is important to give her comfort and support just by listening and hearing what she is feeling and fearing. Keep in mind, that though sick, your friend or family member is still the same person, and still has the same wants and needs that she had before the onset of illness. So, it is important to respect her, meet her where she is, and treat her as normally as possible.

Here are some ways you can continue to be there for your loved one through this time of serious illness:

  • Be a good listener. By being a good listener, and just being present, you help your friend or family member feel valued, validated, and reconnected to the world through you. Simply by being there and actively listening, you are giving your friend or family member the message that she is being seen, and that she can count on you to be there for her through her ordeal… for the long haul.
  • Support your friend. You can’t really rescue anyone; all you can do is support her, be her home team, and let her know that you are there for her.
  • Keep open and honest lines of communication. By doing this, you will allow her to express her feelings freely, without resentment or suppression. Then, she can be herself with you and not have to put on a happy face. It’s more about being present for her feelings rather than filling her with platitudes. In the end, the message you want to deliver is that you’re sensitive to her situation and that you’re there for her, no matter what…and in whatever capacity you are needed.

Here are some things not to say to a loved one who is seriously ill:

  • “Everything happens for a reason.” This discounts her feelings. There’s really no way for anyone to understand the pain and suffering of someone who is sick. All you can do is be present for her, in a non-judgmental or critical way, and most importantly, to validate her feelings.
  • “I know how you’re feeling.” You really don’t. It’s hard to put yourself in another person’s place, especially where illness is concerned. Never compare yourself to your sick friend or family member…it’s not about you, and at this time, she may have neither the energy nor the strength to hear your story.
  • “This is God’s test” or “Only the good die young.” These type of statements lack sensitivity and empathy. To be empathetic when a friend or family member is ill means to have compassion and empathy not for where you are, but for where she This situation is all about her.

At the end of the day, this is a time when your friend needs you to be there for her, to be a good listener, and to support her journey. Try asking her what you can do to help. This might include helping to organize appointments, transportation, or even assist in changing living quarters or arranging for a caretaker. Remember: this is the same person you have loved and love still, so be there for her by listening closely rather than just hearing what she has to say, showing her that you will be there for her, no matter what. Remember that her actions speak louder than her words… and this is never more true than when faced with a health crisis.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.