Health Hint! – How to Support an Ill Loved One

Feb 3, 2021

Federated Health Charities’ mission is to improve the health and quality of life of Ontarians. We believe education and prevention are key parts of this. Check out our latest Health Hint on how to support an ill loved one!

It can be scary and confusing when someone you love is sick.  Whether it’s a friend, a family member, a neighbour, or a colleague, it is hard to see someone you love suffering or in pain.  It can bring feelings of fear, overwhelm, and discomfort over not knowing what to do.  Most people want to help their loved one or to be there for them but are unsure how.  While there is no set list of things to do, as it can vary person to person, there are some things that can often be helpful and appreciated.  Don’t overthink it, don’t feel that you need to make a grand gesture, it likely isnt what your loved one is looking for.  They just want to feel loved, supported, and thought of.

Here are some ideas that you might find helpful:

-Be specific with your offer to help.  Avoid being vague and saying “how can I help?” as your loved on will feel reluctant to burden you with tasks.  Take iniative and identify something that needs doing and do it.  Focus on mundane, every-day tasks as those are the ones that can add up, day after day, for people who are ill (The Healthy, 2019).  Grocery shop, put gas in their car, clean their house, do their gardening, pick their kids up from school.  These may seem like small ways to help, but they will mean a lot to your loved one.  Be direct about your offer, don’t say “can I make you dinner sometime?”, but rather say “I’m bringing you dinner Friday night, would you prefer pizza or pasta?” or “I have scheduled three hours on Monday to run errands for you, so send me your grocery list” (The Healthy, 2019).  Eliminate any opportunity for them to feel bad or that they are imposing. 

-Offer to be the point person for sharing information to other friends and family.  It can be overwhelming for people who are ill to try and keep everyone informed and respond to everyones messages.  Offer to be the one to share updates and information with mutual friends and family (Feiler, 2011).  Likewise, ensure your friend knows that normal niceties like thank you calls, cards, etc are unescessary when people help out or bring something.  They will appreciate having this burden taken off their shoulders. 

-Arrange to take their kids for regular playdates.  An illness affects an entire family and often sick parents feel guilty over the impact it can have on their childrens lives.  Making sure their kids continue with normal playdates and activities may not seem like much to you, but will make a huge difference for your loved on (The Healthy, 2019). 

-When you visit, be mindful of two things.  Don’t overstay your welcome and don’t talk only about their health.  People experiencing illness are tired and in pain but can feel obligated to entertain visitors.  Keeping your visit short and sweet is often a good idea.  Similarly, your loved one is probably spending most of their day thinking or talking about their illness.  Give them a break from that and talk about other things; gossip, TV shows, etc.  They will appreciate the change of topic (Feiler, 2011).

-Offer to come over and be with them when they are waiting on test results or doctors calls.  These can be stressful and frightening moments for a person going through illness, but it can be vulnerable to admit that, so don’t make them.  If you know they are waiting on important news, go be with them (The Healthy, 2019).

-Don’t feel like you have to have the right words to say.  No one knows how to deal with a serious illness, not you and not your loved one.  Rather than trying to come up with something impactful to say, just be honest, say “I don’t know what to say, but I am here and I want to listen”.   It is sincere, let’s them know you’re there, and gives them an opening to talk (The Healthy, 2019).

-Tell them you love them.  Often nothing more than that is needed. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed our latest Health Hint!
Written by: Sarah Wood

NOTE: This article is intended to provide general health tips based on available research. You should consult with a health care professional for specific medical and dietary instructions that are right for you.


Feiler, B. (2011, June 25). What to say and not say to friends and family coping with serious illness. The Seattle Times.

The Healthy. (2019, Oct. 17). What to Say When Someone Is Sick With a Serious Health Condition (and Topics to Avoid).

If you would like to support the health of Ontarians, you can donate to Federated Health Charities

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For general questions, please contact:


Sarah Wood

Executive Director
tel: 437-925-6227


315 Front St. West, 5th Floor
Toronto, ON
M7A 0B8

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