1) Don’t doubt the validity of their pain. They are not “faking it.” People who suffer from a chronic illness do not like lying in bed or on the couch. They are not “prima donas” or “princesses” or “spoiled brats.”
2) Be a good listener. There is no telling the frustration, disappointment and discouragement which the chronic sufferer encounters. Imagine what it would be like to have to cancel dinner plans, an outing with friends, or unable to attend important events like a wedding/baby shower, funeral and so on. Think of what it is like, battered with pain day after day.
3) Be an Encourager. The personal guilt which they carry is formidable. Their pain interferes with the plans of loved ones, and their pain keeps them from being able to go to work many mornings thus putting pressure on their workmates. Their pain prevents them from being the kind of mate or parent they would like to be. They need reassurance. Hugs are gifts in and of themselves.
4) Don’t offer pat answers or trite sayings – for the chronic pain sufferer ‘time does not heal all wounds.” A simple, “I care how you are feeling,” does wonders. A phone call or text to remind them you’re thinking of them or praying for them will be appreciated.
5) Give the gift of laughter. Your conversation, jokes, cute things your children did or other stories will help the chronic pain sufferer to get out of themselves. It will take them on a brief journey from the acute awareness of their pain. Is there a book you can lend? Did you see a funny movie you can recommend? Offer to watch it with them, let them laugh. Or even watch a sad show, tears too, can be a release of pent up feelings.
6) Give/send flowers or a card that reminds them of the positive, vital side of life that tells them someone cares. Be the hands and feet of Christ gently ministering, encouraging. Sometimes the chronic pain sufferer cannot find the reality of the God who carries our griefs and sorrow, except through your caring heart.
7) Give the gift of your time. Come and have a cup of tea with them, or if it’s a day they can manage it, have them over for a cup of tea. Include them in your life experiences, share some of your sorrows. It may surprise you what they can offer you.
8) Offer a meal or help with housework, such as doing the dishes. There are times when for the chronic pain sufferer, everything grinds to a halt. Even some of the simplest tasks are impossible to achieve. It can be daunting, when the sufferer finally gets up, to face all the unfinished household chores and the general disarray. It does not mean you spend hours – even a half hour or an hour can be a marvellous gift.
9) Be patient with your friend; they may seem to have an unending tale of woe, but they need your gentle reminders (not sermons) to help them realize the joy, the beauty, and the potential that their life can indeed have.
Chronic pain is complex and complicated, and there are no easy solutions. However, your encouragement and kindness can go a long way in helping people with chronic pain to live with hope instead of despair.