I still remember the day my brother told me what the doctor told him. He had ALS, a progressive disease that will surely end in death, and two to five years no less. First was shock. Then came the hours of online research. Everything came back the same; I would no longer have a brother in two to five years.
Everyone handles news like this differently. It was early fall for us. People know that Christopher was having trouble walking, but no one thought it was serious. Some of his friends even made of him, thinking, he would get better soon. Not so much.
Christopher chose not to tell his friends, nor our family members right away. When he did, everyone reacted differently.
How would you react if one of your very best friends told you they had a fatal disease with no effective treatment?
Here are a few suggestions on how to help a friend with a fatal or progressive illness.
1. Saying something can be much better than saying nothing.
Let your friend know you are there. Listen. Respond when appropriate. If you don’t know what to say, say that. Your friend will appreciate you being honest rather than you sharing platitudes.
2. Treat your friend how they want to be treated.
Not everyone deals with difficult news the same way. Don’t think about what you need. What does your friend need? Unsure? Ask your friend. Keep in mind, what they need today, may not be the same tomorrow. Check in with them regularly.
3. Know that some days are especially difficult.
Check in our your friend. Some days can be really tough. Be there and let them know you are available if they need help.
4. Be there.
Some people have many reasons they do not want to visit a sick friend, let alone a friend who is dying. They do not know what to say, or do not want to see their friend sick, whatever the reason, it is their own. Your sick friend may perceive these “reasons” as selfish. Remember, all they need is for you to be there, so be there for them.
5. Above all show empathy.
Acknowledge their pain. Share how you feel, but be sure not to overwhelm them. You don’t want a person living with ALS feeling like they have caused you pain.
Show gratitude and interest in their situation. Gratitude that they have opened up to you; interest in how you might help them through this difficult time.
Be encouraging and supportive; actions can often speak louder than words here. Write a note, assist with difficult or tiring tasks.
There is no right way for showing you care when someone you love is diagnosed with a disease like ALS. The most important parts are showing up for them and continuing to be the friend you are.