By Andrea Stunz
When I first heard the term “chronic illness”, I couldn’t fully grasp it. I was introduced to chronic illness with the term “fibromyalgia” as it sunk its teeth deep into my mother-in-law’s body, mind, and spirit. But I’ve met it again and again in the lives of others I’ve known. I’m not ill, but I’ve learned how to fight the effects of ongoing illness with these courageous friends.
She was energetic and full of life, love, and laughter. The men in the house worked the family business, so Anita rarely asked for their help around the house. She loved working in her yard and she was an active and loving Mimi to her three grandchildren.
She was constantly trying new medicines her doctor prescribed. If there was a new oil or the “miracle” cure from the shopping networks, she tried it. She self-medicated. She sought hope in self-diagnosing because her doctor, whom she trusted, didn’t (or couldn’t) diagnose. We helplessly watched her body break while the remedies she consumed began to consume her.
She would “just live with” fibromyalgia for ten years. At only 63, we laid her body to rest. Perhaps she had Lyme Disease or other chronic diseases that could have been treated. I believe God is sovereign over life and death but the “what if’s” still haunt us. What we do know, and what we take comfort in, is that she is no longer chronically ill but eternally healed.
I met this beautiful soul in 2007. She is an incredibly gifted singer/songwriter who quickly became a part of our family.
I watched Lyme disease crush the life-song out of her. Feeding tubes silenced her vocal cords. Hospital gowns replaced cute show clothes. Sticky notes were her memory banks. Dim lighting took the place of stage lights.
She fought to let go. She fought to hold on. I’ve watched her fight to sing another song and do another show. I’ve watched her fight to breathe. I’ve watched her fight to live.
These lovely ladies are also friends whom I am grateful to share life with. Through a plethora of Auto-Immune Diseases, MS, and Lyme, they battle on with treatments, trials, and tests. They continue to work, study, and serve their families and communities as they literally fight for their lives.
I don’t suffer from a chronic illness. I mean, I have Celiac Disease, which technically is a chronic auto-immune disease, but it doesn’t compare. I don’t have 26 bottles of daily meds and supplements on my kitchen counter. I don’t live by the calendar of scheduled doctor or infusion appointments. I’m not anxious about a basic germ sending me to the ER–or worse. So as I watch these friends fight for their lives, I’ve learned how to fight alongside of them. Here are a few ways that have made a difference:
A chronically ill person needs so much help and they get tired of asking very quickly. So often, just thinking a thought is arduous. Don’t wait for them to ask you for help. Ask them, “Can I take your kiddo to get ice cream?” “Can I do the morning school run for you?” “Can I come sit with you while you rest.?” “I’m going to the store. What can I pick up for you?” “Can I order a delivery dinner for you tonight?”
Ask them to share their story. Ask about what they feel, emotionally and physically. Ask about their treatments. Ask about their fears and their joys. Be a student of their pain. What sounds like asking to us feels like caring to them. They may choose not to talk about it but they will know that you genuinely cared enough to ask.
A chronically ill person strives to keep it all together and make it all happen. To those of us outside the arena, it might seem they’re fine. Never assume they’re doing well because they’re laughing, enjoying dinner out, or wearing makeup. That may simply be how they chose to spend their “spoon” today. (The Spoon Theory) They likely borrowed spoons from the next month to have dinner out with their family.
“Be kind to yourself today.”
“Grace is for you, too.”
Send cards, send pizza (if they can’t eat it their family will). Send a “I’m thinking about you and praying for you.” email or text–but only if you really are. A chronically ill person can spot fake motives from a mile away. Forward a comforting scripture and tell them there’s no need to respond. (Encouraging Scriptures) Send them a song link, a 10,000 thread-count pillow case (slight exaggeration), or something funny. Laughter is good medicine and my guess is, they are hard-pressed to find it on their own.
“I’m sad you are hurting”,“I hate that you are having to go through this”, “I want you to be well,” or “You’re not alone”. There is absolutely zero space in the life of someone who is chronically-ill for judgement. I bet they are quite proficient at judging themselves. They will say things they don’t mean because their brain hurts too. Listen to their heart, not their words. Be tender.
And above all…
Pray scripture over them. Pray Psalm 3 with their name in it! Pray that they would have more “arm holders” in their lives than they know what to do with. (Exodus 17:10-13) Pray fiercely for rest, comfort, wisdom, and peace as they fight for their life.
For those of us on the sidelines, we can’t do it all. They don’t expect us to. But we can all do something.
A version was originally posted at www.chronicallywhole.com and shared with permission.
Andrea Stunz has been a Christ-follower from the age of seven. She is the committed wife to one, loving mom to three amazing adult children, grateful mother-in-law and ridiculously proud grandmother. A well-traveled Texan, having lived in Brazil, Asia, and the UK, Andrea finds joy in her family, grace in her friends, beauty in a story, purpose in the sunrise, wonder in her travels, and hope in Colossians 1:17. Andrea longs to encourage other women by sharing stories because “a story worth living is a story worth sharing”. Find more from her at AndreaStunz.com.