How to support a friend whose spouse is in hospital?
May 4, 2010 2:48 PM   Subscribe

I have a good friend who lives in a different city to me (a 8 hour-plus drive away from me.) His spouse is currently in hospital due to an unexpected episode of mental illness, and is not expected home again for several weeks. I want to provide both emotional and practical support to my friend, but I am limited in what I can do due to distance. What can I do to make my friends life easier and/or happier during this difficult and sad time? My friend is comfortable as far as medical bills and living expenses go (we live in Australia, which has free hospital care, so so the Government will be paying all the medical bills), but he is obviously very emotionally distressed by his wife's unexpected ill-health.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
From a practical standpoint, maybe you could offer to arrange to have some meals delivered to the house, or see if he'd benefit from the help of a housekeeping service. But, be sure to ask first. When people are in distress, things like a housekeeper might feel like too much of an intrusion.
posted by amyms at 3:16 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

As amyms said, having meals sent to the house is a godsend. Speaking from experience, not having to worry about preparing or ordering food is a relief in tough times.
posted by critzer at 3:23 PM on May 4, 2010

I assume they don't have kids, or you would have mentioned them. But if they do, there might be some way you could help there?
posted by jacalata at 4:33 PM on May 4, 2010

Be there for him emotionally. His wife may be totally out of it, he might be there as the woman he loves is not herself, at all, maybe doesn't even know herself; people don't go onto psych wards for a couple of weeks for a case of blahs, this is super heavy duty stuff.

So he's having to walk onto that ward and see who she is in with on that ward, he's smelling the smells of a psych ward, seeing the sights of it, dealing with shrinks and psych nurses and social workers and side by side with other families -- it can really be a load. It's a different world. Same planet different world. So let him off-load that, listen, make sure he knows that you're open to hearing what happened today in that world, and how his wife is bearing up, and now he is bearing up.

Your listening without judgment can be huge for him, solace, a calm in the storm.

Other than that, just the basics of crisis -- ask him if he's eating, resting, is he caring for himself in this time also, and not just his spouse.

You're a good friend -- he's lucky.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:36 PM on May 4, 2010

When something like this happens, often everyone focuses on the sick person, ignoring the well caregiver. Call your friend up and listen if they want to talk. Stay in contact.
posted by zippy at 4:44 PM on May 4, 2010

As some have already said, whenever a friend is dealing with an unexpected crisis, the most important thing is to be there for him or her. Check in regularly, but don't exert pressure for him to respond, meaning if you leave a voicemail or send an email let him know that if he doesn't have time or feel like talking, you understand and know you will connect when it's best for him. Even if he doesn't respond, don't disappear or take it personally. Oftentimes, it's when things quiet down that we need our friends the most.

In terms of the practical, food is often a good idea, and if you know of something he particularly enjoys like books, comics, DVDs, building models, etc. that could help him take his mind off things for a little bit, maybe something along those lines as well. If he needs to keep a group of people in the loop, offer to be the one to make the calls or send the emails. Updating everyone is an exhausting and overwhelming process sometimes, so that is often a chore people are happy to relinquish. Also, I'd say just ask, "Is there anything I can do to help out?" That's the easiest way to make sure your contributions aren't just appreciated but are also truly needed.

Honestly, though being there for him, in whatever capacity he needs, with no expectations weighing on him, will make the most difference. Unfortunately, some people distance themselves when others are struggling, especially when it comes to things like mental illness, and others take offense when their overtures aren't received the way they expected. It's obvious you're not one of those people, and that makes you a good friend and a tremendous gift in good times as well as bad. Best of luck to you all.
posted by katemcd at 8:18 PM on May 4, 2010

The biggest thing you can probably do is to maintain a level of nice, mundane, regular ol' contact.

People feel awkward about supporting their friends through illness (theirs or their spouses), and mean well, but overthink it, and don't know what to say, and, before they know it it's been months, and then they feel awkward about THAT, and they tend to just...drift...away.

Beyond that, let him know that he can vent and that you won't think ill of him or his wife. Or he can talk about other stuff and you'll understand that he's not NOT thinking about his wife.
posted by desuetude at 9:27 PM on May 4, 2010

Regarding sending food, both Woolworths and Coles deliver groceries for a small fee. You can send deliveries as a gift, and they will attach a gift card for you.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 5:09 AM on May 5, 2010

Addendum- this may go without saying, but you would need to check with him first, as it may be more of an imposition than a help.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 5:13 AM on May 5, 2010

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