How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick

Case histories to learn from and live by

Ice Cream, Pillows and Candles

Creature comforts work wonders to lift spirits and alleviate suffering.

A nice pillow can make all the difference.

A California woman, Shifra, wrote me about the time she accompanied her friend Rose to Rose’s first chemo treatment. Shifra found the dank, beige, over air-conditioned treatment room so depressing that she decided she had to take matters into her own hands. On top of Rose’s baseline fear of the cancer and the chemo, Shifra thought what a bummer it must be for Rose to know she’d be spending hours and days in these inhospitable surroundings.

Saying she’d be right back, Shifra quickly drove home where she gathered a few things she thought might make Rose more comfortable and improve the aesthetics of the treatment room. She returned with a candle “to mask the stink of the cleaning fluids,” a soft pillow covered in a smoothly ironed pillow case, and a cashmere blanket to protect against the chill in the frigid room.

When she returned, “Rose laughed, complimented me on my decorating skills, and then she went to sleep,” reported Shifra. At the end of that session, the whole kit and kaboodle went into the trunk of Rose’s car and she pulled it out for every chemo date thereafter.

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Other simple things that made life easier for Rose during that difficult time: reflexology (a foot massage) while she was hooked up to her drip; a smoothie to settle her stomach and help with her dry mouth, a tuna sandwich in case she got hungry. At a later stage of her treatments, ice cream – which plays a featured role in my book (and on its cover) because it’s the elixir of the ill – was added to their kit and kaboodle. “No one told us Rose would get sores in her mouth from the chemicals, so eventually ice cream became her favorite medication and munchie.”

Getting well and feeling better is not only about taking one’s meds and getting proper treatments; it’s about keeping one’s dignity, being pampered, and feeling worthy of creative acts of kindness by one’s friends. If you have a sick friend, consider bringing them a fresh pair of soft flannel pajamas, treating them to a facial, giving them a warm foot bath, or fixing them an ice cream sundae with all the trimmings.

Until next time, here’s to good health and great friendship.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a founding editor of Ms. magazine and past president of The Authors Guild, is an award-winning journalist, speaker, activist, and author of ten books.

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