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MS Focus. Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. Excerpts taken from IDA’s book, But You LOOK Good! For Family and Friends: How You Can Help. Winter 1999. Read from MS Focus.

Many people are genuinely willing to help; they just do not know where to begin. They often offer by saying, “call me if you need anything.” This is a great effort to reach out, but, unfortunately, it does not work.

When a person has a chronic illness, they are forced to give up countless dreams from losing a career to the inability to complete simple daily tasks. The independence they had all of their lives is suddenly gone and they are left with the struggle of needing help, yet, feeling like a burden if they ask for it; besides, if they do find the courage to call, it will inevitably be a bad time for you.

A person with a chronic illness will tell you how you can help, if you simply listen. Often, they need rides to doctor appointments or would benefit greatly if you could run an errand for them.

But, how can you help if they will not call you when they need it? Simple… you call them. They know you are busy, overextended and do not have a lot of leisure time; they do not want to add to your pressures. The secret to getting them to accept your much-needed help is to do something convenient for you.

You can do this by calling and saying, “I am going to the grocery store, can I pick a few things up for you?” This is an incredible way to save your friend or family member days worth of energy, they know you do not have to make a special trip just for them and it is virtually effortless on your part.

Another way to approach them is to say, “I have some time on Tuesday, can I stop by for a short visit with you? And while I am there, I would love to fold some towels or do a few dishes.”

Sometimes having company can be quite stressful for someone with a chronic illness, because they are probably behind in household duties; but if you express that you truly understand their desire and inability to keep up with those things, they will not feel as embarrassed.

Another way to ease their housekeeping situation is to organize a few people to chip in for regular cleanings; if you get enough friends to participate, it may only cost you a few dollars a month!

Because getting out is often too exerting, you can bring them a picnic lunch or a cup of tea! If they are not feeling up to the visit, you can drop off a nutritiously prepared meal or a video.

In all, remember to listen, believe what you hear, allow them to say “no,” and offer specific help that is convenient for you. Do not worry about making time for hours of strenuous help; what is simple for you could save days of excruciating work for them!