When a parent becomes sick, it’s like a sudden storm descending upon a family.
Everyone scrambles to step in to care for them and pick up the slack for their usual responsibilities.
Life suddenly feels chaotic and overwhelming.
Even though people know parents get older, unexpected sickness can still throw things off balance.
During these tough times, being a friend means everything.
A kind word, a simple gesture, or just being there can make a world of difference.
It’s like offering a warm blanket on a cold night.
From a heartfelt chat to just running an errand, these little things show that no one has to face this journey alone.
It’s a way to say, “I’m here for you.”
Sometimes, that’s all someone needs to hear.
What to say when someone’s parent is sick
How to offer help
- I know keeping up with your errands can be hard at such a time. Let me know if I can drop off some groceries.
- Drop me a list if you need errands taken care of.
- I’m available to watch the kids or take them out for a while.
- I’d be happy to watch the kids or take them out while you’re at the hospital.
- Would you mind if I brought you dinner sometime next week?
- I’m heading to the store; may I pick up something for you?
- Would you mind if I brought over a baked good when I see you? Would be happy to take suggestions.
- I know it may be hard getting outside, but I would love to take you out for a coffee if you’d like.
- If you want to talk about anything else, I’m here to take your mind off things
- Would you like some company the next time you’re at the hospital?
- If I can help you understand all the medical jargon, let me know.
- If you’d like me to share some of the things that helped us, let me know. No worries if not.
- Let me know if I can help you in any way
- I’d love to help, whether it’s big or small
Asking for help during a family crisis can be difficult, and it may be hard to figure out what is reasonable to request from others.
Sometimes ´whatever you need’ is too vague and can lead to sticky situations when you cannot meet the person’s requests.
For people who may be reluctant to inconvenience others, letting them know that you want to be there for them and are not going too far out of your way can help.
“It’s on my route home” or “I really don’t mind” can ease people’s worries that they are burdening you.
By offering specific forms of support, you can remove the burden of guessing and going back and forth for your friend.
Letting them know you’re here for them
- I know you may still be reeling from the shock, but when you’re ready to talk, I’m here
- If you need a shoulder to cry on, I’m here
- Whatever you need, I’m here for you.
- You’re not alone in this. I’m just a phone call or text away if you need someone to lean on.
When parents fall ill, their children may become so swept up in ensuring they are cared for that their own needs fall to the wayside.
If your friend turns down your initial requests, you can let them know that the offer still stands to make it easier for them to ask.
Showing your care
- I’ll be thinking of you
- Wish you were here, and thinking of you
- Holding you and your family in my thoughts and prayers
- I’m holding your family in my heart and sending you love
When a parent is sick, it can feel like everyone else is carrying on with their lives, leaving you wishing that everything would just stop so you can come to terms with this new reality.
During such times, a simple text or call to let someone know you’re thinking of them can mean a lot. It’s a small gesture that feels like a virtual hug.
If a friend who’s dealing with a sick parent asks about your life, it’s still okay to share updates.
But it’s important to be sensitive in how you communicate the news, keeping in mind what they’re going through.
Being mindful of their situation can make the conversation more comforting and supportive.
- I heard that your mom is in hospital. How are you coping?
- How is your dad doing lately?
- How is your family?
- How is your mom’s health?
- How’s everything going, if you don’t mind me asking?
Talking about serious illnesses like cancer or dementia can be really tough.
Even though these topics are hard to discuss, don’t shy away from them if they’re part of what your friend or their family is going through.
For families dealing with a chronic illness, sharing thoughts and feelings about what’s happening can be helpful.
It’s not just about talking within the family; communicating with friends and others outside the family can improve everyone’s well-being.
It helps to create a support system and makes coping with the illness a bit easier for the whole family.1
Regular check-ins can let a friend know you are in it for the long haul when a family member is chronically ill.
Letting them know that they don’t have to respond immediately gives them the time and space they need to process and respond when they are ready.
- It must feel overwhelming right now.
- This must be so hard for you and your family.
- I can only imagine how difficult this must be.
- We don’t have to talk about it right now if you’re not ready.
When a friend is going through a difficult time, be there for them.
Active listening and paying attention to both their words and nonverbal cues can help you respond sensitively and avoid saying anything that might be hurtful or unhelpful.
Acknowledging their experience
- I know it may not feel like it, but you’re doing a great job
- Your mother is really lucky to have you at her side
- It’s clear how much you love your father
- You’re doing a wonderful job under these circumstances
- There is no right way to handle this. You’re doing the best you can
Finding genuine ways to highlight and validate their dedication may leave them feeling seen and boost morale.3
It can also open conversations about self-care and ensure they prioritize their needs after a period of crisis.
Wishing their parent well
- I’m sorry to hear about your mother’s condition and hope she receives the best treatment.
- I hope your mother gets better soon.
- Wishing your dad’s operation goes smoothly and brings relief.
- Wishing you courage and strength during this hard time.
What not to say
Avoid overly optimistic statements.
While maintaining a positive outlook or trying to see things in a new light can be helpful during difficult times, these feelings must be genuine and not forced.
Telling someone, “You have nothing to worry about” or “Just stay positive,” can come across as dismissive rather than supportive.
These phrases undermine the real emotions and challenges the person is facing and urge them to suppress their feelings, leading to worse emotional well-being.4
On the other hand, sharing discouraging stories about people in similar situations can multiply the anxiety already present for families with sick relatives.
They likely have already thought of the worst-case scenario.
There is no need to offer up another one.
Hold back on offering unsolicited advice or knowledge.
Leave that to the medical professionals.
If you have skills or previous experiences that may be useful, you can offer to share these in a way that is empathetic and well-timed.
But don’t take offense if you are turned down.
- 1.Årestedt L, Persson C, Benzein E. Living as a family in the midst of chronic illness. Scand J Caring Sci. Published online January 15, 2013:29-37. doi:10.1111/scs.12023
- 2.Ferguson AM, Cameron CD, Inzlicht M. When does empathy feel good? Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. Published online June 2021:125-129. doi:10.1016/j.cobeha.2021.03.011
- 3.Fruzzetti AE, Shenk C. Fostering Validating Responses in Families. Social Work in Mental Health. Published online January 23, 2008:215-227. doi:10.1300/j200v06n01_17
- 4.Brockman R, Ciarrochi J, Parker P, Kashdan T. Emotion regulation strategies in daily life: mindfulness, cognitive reappraisal and emotion suppression. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Published online August 12, 2016:91-113. doi:10.1080/16506073.2016.1218926