By Maureen Pratt | Catholic News Service
When we are ill, there's often nothing more uplifting than an encouraging word from a friend or family member. But if we are very ill or we are caring for a loved one, the person who is a constant stream of questions, requests for updates and inquiries can unintentionally be exhausting and seem more hurtful than helpful.
Recently, two of my friends fell gravely ill, alerting me to their hospitalizations (separately) via emails. Of course, I immediately offered what support I could. I visited one them in the hospital days before she died. I kept in close touch with the other one via email as her condition improved.
In both cases, the communication was fragmented. So much went on between visits and emails that I could tell it was difficult for either friend to give me the full story, and I had to rein in my concern and questions because I didn't want to add to their fatigue. Both had strong family support, so I understood that their presence and assistance would take precedence over mine -- rightly so.
But, still, I wanted to be as informed as possible so as to be as helpful as possible. How can this be accomplished without being a burden on the friend/patient or their family members and those who are close to them?
Some hospitals, I have discovered, have portals that operate much like a social network that allows a patient, or his or her family, to be in touch with others and communicate updates, messages or greetings.
These are password protected and are accessible by invitation only from the administrator (usually a close family member, spouse or other person acting as guardian). There are also other web-based services that offer the same kind of private account.
A personal website or one of the many social media sites can be a hub, too, although it might be more difficult to honor the privacy of the patient. It is always best to ask the patient what he or she prefers before proceeding.
Names of sick members of our church communities are usually either read during Mass or listed in the weekly bulletin. Some parishes also have "prayer circles," where the patient or family member reaches out to the circle leader who relays the information to a small group of parishioners. They dedicate time to praying for church members who are ill.
Within the circle of people directly involved with a patient's care, it helps to have one or two point people who can understand what needs to be said, as well as how others might help. For example, it might be necessary to tell all prospective visitors about the need to protect the patient from any infections.
But if a request for casseroles gets out to too many people, the refrigerator and freezer will undoubtedly overflow with love and leftovers.
A serious illness is stressful and exhausting for a patient and his or her loved ones, and it can also be a time of deep emotional sadness. The more we ease the burden of those who suffer and those who care for them, the more we are of help.
And during the times when we're waiting for word of their condition, we can still be helpful by remaining as loving as ever, ready and willing to be a true friend.