How to Console a Loved One Dealing With an Illness or Hardship

As someone who has dealt with a recent kidney cancer diagnosis, I know firsthand there is a spectrum of emotions running through the head of someone who is ill. Some moments, it’s all smiles because I was feeling optimistic about the future. Some moments, I felt like I couldn’t  breathe because I was consumed with fear and all of the “what if’s” that were in my future – if I had a future. And of course, there’s every emotion in between. Anyone that is ill or dealing with a hardship will experience their own unique emotions and will process external support in different ways, but I wanted to explain what has helped me over the past few weeks. Feel free to adapt these should you find yourself in an unfortunate situation where a loved one does get ill.

Listen first

With all of the thoughts and emotions I was feeling, I really needed a way to be able to express myself. Truthfully, there were many times I thought of death. These are thoughts that I just didn’t feel I could share very openly. I didn’t want to make anyone, especially my family, feel any more sad or stressed then they were. So I looked to my friends for a different kind of support that I couldn’t quite get from my family. I found it most helpful and therapeutic for me when a friend would offer support and say they are here for me. Then, they let me speak freely and share all of my fears.

There’s not much you can say sometimes and that’s ok. That’s more than ok. You don’t have to offer anyone any kind of solution. In a lot of situations, there is no solution that you would be able to provide. I know that can be hard for a lot of problem solvers out there but just being you and giving your time and your ear is what can be super impactful.

Seeing my friends give me their time and energy helped lift me up the most.

Walking in blue jumper

Uplift and don’t blame

There is a lot of self blame that goes on when you’re dealing with an illness. I struggled quite a bit with thinking I did something wrong. ‘I lead a healthy lifestyle but maybe it just wasn’t healthy enough…’ is a common thought I had. Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that fried meal because that could have been it… there’s lots of detrimental thoughts similar to those that went on in my head. It always uplifted me when my friends would say things like, ‘it’s not your fault’ or ‘it can happen to anyone’. When there’s questions or comments with an underlying tone of ‘Do you think you did anything to cause this?’ it can pile on with the thoughts that already exist.

Keep it positive

This should be a given but when emotions are high and it’s a stressful situation, sometimes words can slip out that can worry your loved one who is sick. Having such a scary diagnosis can lead to a lot of panic by everyone. Even if you think the situation is terrible, it’s important to not amplify an already high stress experience. Before knowing the staging of the cancer, doctors thought I could either have Stage 2 or Stage 3. I had people tell me they were worried and thought it was Stage 3. I absolutely know that they care for me and it’s just their love that is affecting the words they chose but that’s definitely not what I wanted to hear, even though that’s of course at the time something that was very plausible. There’s no need to downplay the reality of a situation but just saying that you believe it will be a good outcome is all it takes to maintain high spirits.

Be a follower

I know that sometimes the natural inclination may be to lighten the mood and crack jokes but follow the lead of the person affected. If they were just diagnosed and wounds are fresh or your loved one is feeling extremely vulnerable and emotional, depending on the person, it may not be the best time to tell a joke. Allow the person to feel all their feelings. It can be an uncomfortable place to be but

it’s important to feel in order to heal.

If your loved one is in lighter spirits, that may be a good time to follow suit and share funny stories or memories!

Offer a hand to help

I feel so fortunate that I am very close to my family. I geographically live close and they are truly my rock, emotionally. However, if I wasn’t, I would have needed SO much tangible support from my friends. I’m so thankful so many people reached out to me to drop off groceries, pick up food, take care of Tiger Lily, etc. If you’re able to, offer any kind of help with errands and daily life activities. Even if it’s helping your loved one by driving somewhere for them. Everything helps!

Keep in touch

It’s tricky to balance exactly how much you should keep in touch. I understand that sometimes people are concerned for the other person’s space; and that is important.  Too much space though can lead to feeling neglected or that you don’t care. Even if you aren’t sure if your loved one wants to talk, check in with a quick text message or DM! It does not go unnoticed. Even leading with ‘You don’t have to message back…’ just so that your loved one knows he/she’s on your mind and there is no pressure to communicate!  Knowing that you are there when your loved one is ready to talk means everything.

Talk about everything!

I felt like many times people would tip toe around me or would only want to talk about my situation. It’s super thoughtful and really appreciated that attention was given to me but it’s also a very isolating experience. Being ill already sets me apart from other people and not having others understand what my experience was like. But what makes it more isolating is feeling that friends aren’t confiding in you with your every day life. I missed talking about the “every day” daily life topics with my friends. Keep your loved one involved so there is a semblance of normalcy and that he/she is still an integral part of your life too.


I hope these tips helped you. Again, this is what I know I valued during my difficult times, everyone is different! I hope some of these can help you as you navigate an unexpected or difficult time. 🙂

Photos by Lin Mary Photography

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1 Comments

  1. Jennifer wrote:

    Insightful post. Thank you for sharing

    Posted 10.27.18 Reply

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  • Taking the steps to heal is exhausting. Honestly, it’s not been an enjoyable path to go on. While not enjoyable, it’s certainly been necessary for my mental, emotional, and physical well being.

It takes a lot of energy and effort to try and pick your life up after you have experienced a trauma or loss of any kind. And we all do experience it. It can happen in different forms - loss of a loved one, a romantic relationship, a friendship, a job, health, or a myriad of other hardships.

I wanted to share what I’ve been doing over the past few weeks in hopes that it could maybe be applied to your unique path to healing and growth. #linkinbio Remember that these are my personal ways I’ve made steps toward more healing in my life. It may not work for you and that’s ok. Your path could look entirely different. Do what feels right for you, in your own time. ❤️ #emotionalwellness #healingjourney #mentalhealth
  • This weekend I gave my baby Tiger Lily a memorial service. I wanted to make it special for her so I surrounded her with her favorite toys and treats. I tried to remember her by sharing funny little things she did; all her quirkiness. She will always be the very best girl. Night night Tiger, I will see you in the morning. 🌈 I love you forever and ever and ever. ❤️
  • This weekend @blogher I spoke about the importance of owning your health and being your best health self-advocate.

It takes time to find the right medical professional for you but it’s time well spent because the doctor-patient relationship is one of the most intimate you can have.

Assess what your priorities are when finding a doctor, conduct interviews, don’t be afraid to seek a second/third opinion, do your own research, and have open communication. You know your body and your needs better than anyone.

The more you use your voice at the doctor’s office (or in any situation), the more powerful your voice becomes. ✨ #blogher20 #womenshealth
  • Still in pain. Still grieving. Still feel empty. I’m not sure when these feelings will lessen but this week I told myself that every day I would try to work on myself a little bit. So I’ve meditated two days. I remembered to take my medication. I scheduled a time to see a bereavement counselor. I tried to refocus energy on work.

The rest of the time I cry. I sleep. I put on the TV to shut out the thoughts inside my head. I found myself Googling “How to heal from loss” and the first point I read was “Do what feels right for you” so I’ve been trying. Constantly checking in with myself to see what my needs are. Hoping these little daily steps will help me regain more purpose in my life.

If you’re trying to cope with grief or loss, sending you a hug. Take your time and “do what feels right for you” ❤️
  • My parents had a pre-planned trip to Atlanta this week and since I’ve been staying with them, they insisted I shouldn’t be alone right now. Maybe they’re right. So, I’m off to Atlanta for a couple days. I know you can’t necessarily escape your problems but maybe being in a new environment will help me breathe a little more, if even for a few minutes throughout the day. 
I went to @sprouts before heading to the airport so that my family and I will have snacks for the flight and for our time there. Grabbed a bunch of fruit because it’s so easy and @hippeas_snacks since they are organic, vegan, and gluten-free. They’re on sale now @sprouts #ImAHippea #HippeasPartner
  • Tiger came into my life one month before I was diagnosed with cancer. I had to rest so much in the early days when I had her. I would get tired and have to sleep or lay down for most of the day leading up to my surgery.

On surgery day, I was terrified. I thought I wouldn’t wake up. So on the surgery room table, before I could feel the anesthesia, I told the surgery team my “final” words, ‘Tell my mom and Tiger Lily I love them’. She was always my priority. Always my family.

When I eventually woke up the first thing I asked my mom is ‘Where is Tiger Lily? How is she?’ I was even trying to get my mom to sneak her into my hospital room but security stopped her. I couldn’t wait to have her in my lap.

I eventually got discharged from the hospital and I had to spend weeks on the sofa downstairs because I couldn’t make it to the bed on the second floor. So on a narrow sofa, Tiger and I slept together, all day. I felt so bad for her since she seemed so bored and she was only sleeping next to me because her mama was recovering.

I made little promises to her though, I would make it to the patio and sit down there for a few minutes so I could throw her toy with her (she would only play fetch with me). Then eventually I was able to take slow walks with her and sit down on a park bench while she played.

She helped me focus my energy on getting better for her. No one else could take care of her, like I could. I got stronger for her. Tiger Lily gave me purpose each day. Baby Tiger helped me heal.

Maybe this is part of why the pain is unbearable. We’ve been through so much, even in our short time together. The pain today feels just as excruciating and suffocating like it did a week ago. Praying tomorrow will be better. 💔
  • The story of how my baby Tiger Lily came into my life

March 2018 my family and I lost our family Pomchi, Puffy. She had been with us for 13 years. She was my parents baby and I was the fun sister that got to come hang with her.

When we lost her I felt an emptiness and wanted some doggy energy around. I thought fostering seemed interesting. It’s temporary. I’ll foster a dog for a couple days and then that’s it.

One day I scrolled and found Dogs Without Borders. I came across a little Tiger Lily. What a funny name, I thought. There was something about her that I was drawn to. I think it was the ears.

I was still nervous about it and didn’t know if I could handle it but one day I went out to dinner with friends and we were talking about it. There just happened to be Tiger hot sauce on the table and it said TRY ME. We laughed, I had never seen that type of sauce before! It was definitely a sign.

So I fostered her and I remember I kept her blocked off in an area of my house. There’s no way I was just letting her run free where ever she wanted to go.

Then I started seeing how scared she was. She would regularly shake; so confused as to where she was. ‘I’m a good girl why is my life like this’ she probably thought.  So I became more lenient so she could feel more at ease. I guess fine she could be on the sofa once in a while when I was around but only on her pillow. I guess fine she could be on my bed but only if she stayed on her side. Boundaries only really lasted a couple days. I’m weak.

Then after just less than a week, her former foster family wanted to adopt her. I had been thinking of adopting her but then thought it was better for her to go with them. They were a couple with other animals in the house so it felt like a fun, full home for Tiger to be in.

After just two days, the couple told me they changed their mind. If I didn’t want her then they’d end up returning her back to DWB. I was livid. Once you commit to adopting a baby, there is a no refund policy. Baby adoptions are not merchandise to exchange for another fit. I missed her and didn’t want Tiger to go through another transfer so I decided to adopt her myself. (contd in comments)
  • Rest in peace my love. My little baby Tiger Lily. I don’t know what happened. It was so sudden. You were fine on Friday! Maybe a little stomach upset on Saturday and then Sunday you could barely wag your tail when you saw me. I wish I noticed more signs so I could know how sick you were. Were you telling me something sooner and I didn’t know? You left me and my heart is not broken in half. My heart is completely shattered. I am so sorry for letting you down. I was trying to save you like you saved me. I tried to be the very best mama to you. I barely left you alone. I never wanted you to feel abandoned and lonely because that’s what you grew up knowing. (Don’t worry I won’t tell anyone I would sneak you into places you weren’t supposed to be in.) I always played with you (Stay. Stay. Find it!) I always bought you the best food - nothing but organic, all natural, and premium quality for my baby! I remember I would be so tired sometimes but I’d go out to Whole Foods to buy you steak just as a treat for being you. I wanted you to know how loved and OBSESSED I was all the time. I know you were obsessed with me too. Your grandparents would always call you “piece of gum on mom’s shoe” because you were just stuck to me like glue! You always had to be touching me, no matter what. If you didn’t see me in eyesight you would panic!

When I first got you I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would you like me? Would you be a lot of work? I could not have asked for a more perfect baby. You always listened to your mama, except for when it was bed time and you insisted on taking my side of the bed. I always pretended to be annoyed but what did I tell you every night? I said ‘Little baby Tiger Lily I love you, you’re the very best girl. I’m going to see you tomorrow and I hope you dream about all the yummy treats we’re going to eat’. Sweet baby, you were so strong. You struggled all day yesterday and when the doctor said there’s not much hope I took you home so you could be comfortable. You were so brave to be strong enough to be in the car in my arms and to make it all the way home. I didn’t let you go and you took your last breath in my arms. Snuggled with all your blankies. (contd)
  • 💔EMERGENCY: Is anyone a vet or a homeopathic animal doctor? Tigers condition has worsened over night. Doctors don’t know what the cause is, they’ve thrown out words like sepsis, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, anaphylaxis, they just don’t know.

Facts: Swollen gallbladder, low body temp, stomach is fluid filled, slight water in lungs, now in an oxygen cage... - doctor says her stomach and gastrointestinal system is not working. I don’t know what to do. Maybe another opinion or doctor would know. I have a copy of blood results to help.

Please forward to anyone who might have another opinion. My heart hurts I can’t breathe and I need to save her like she saved me. 💔🙏
  • Currently at the emergency animal hospital where I had to admit Tiger Lily for overnight observation and testing. She had been feeling ill since yesterday. Little stomach upsets usually go away quickly but today she started also having slow reactions, not blinking and experiencing heavy breathing. The vet said she is “pretty sick” with low blood pressure. She may have pancreatitis or some type of gastric complication.

Pancreatitis is what my 13 year old family dog, Puffy, passed away from back in 2018. So to hear that Tiger Lily may have this... 💔 Pray for Tiger please. Anyone that knows me even a little knows exactly how much she means to me and I just can’t have her be sick because I need her. ❤️
  • With all the supplements out there sometimes it can be hard to know what actually works. I have been taking probiotics for years and I like to switch them up every once in a while. #Ad I just started @seed’s Daily Synbiotic which I’ve found isn’t just any probiotic. What I appreciate about @seed is that they’re pioneering a “next-generation” probiotic, based on science.

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  • What is your approach to food? I try to eat mostly plant-based but I allow myself the freedom to eat what my body craves that day. All foods fit over here!

Today on the blog I’m breaking down an easy approach to changing mindset around food choices. 🥑 #intuitiveeating #eatingwell #allfoodsfit #healthyliving

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