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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can we help a family with a sick parent?

How can we help a family with a sick parent? When we find out that someone we care about is sick, we want to help. Often, though, we don’t know what to do. Writing from firsthand experience, Heart to heart author Kerry Ognenoff details what helped her and her family when she was sick. I really appreciate the practicality of Ognenoff’s insights and the glimpse into what her mind–set was when she was struggling. Following Ognenoff’s article, read the sidebar about how Holy Word, Austin, Texas, put together a Care Team to help serve its members and neighbors. Does your congregation have a group like this? Share how it’s been a blessing to you—to receive Christian love and support or to give it. E-mail [email protected] with your stories.

Nicole Balza

In April 2018, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

I never expected to hear a cancer diagnosis at 36 years old. I never expected to have to tell my two young children that their mom was seriously ill. I also never expected the amount of help and support we received from our friends, family, and church/school community. Our lives were thrown into a tailspin for six months as I went through chemotherapy, and my husband took over the kid and house duties. We would not have survived without the unbelievable outpouring of love and help we received.

Before I offer advice on supporting a family with a sick parent, I’d like to speak to the person who is ill (or in need of support): Figure out exactly what you need. The following suggestions were most helpful to me and our family, but that was because I carefully evaluated what I needed most and was able to make specific requests when people offered help. When people ask what they can do for you, don’t be afraid to say, “This is what we need right now.”

That said, when someone you love is going through a tough time, here are some helpful ways to reach out.


I cannot put into words what an empowering comfort it was to know that I had people praying for me and my family during my diagnosis and treatment. When our life took a surreal turn, we had so many believers on our side, storming his throne on our behalf. It was a huge comfort!

Ask what to pray for specifically. Do they have tests or procedures coming up? Troubling side effects? Kids or spouse struggling with the life changes? A particular challenge you can bring to God? And then let them know you’re praying.

Be specific in your offers of help.

General offers of help, like “Let us know if you need anything,” were always appreciated, but the specific offers of help were much easier for me to accept. “I’m picking up your kids for a day at the zoo, what time works for you?” or “What day this week can I come and clean your bathroom?” It took all the thinking out of it for me. It’s the little things—walking the dog, hanging with the kids, cleaning up the kitchen—that, yes, I could still do while sick, but the help gave me a little bit of a break to focus on other activities instead.

Sign up for or coordinate a meal train.

My family was beyond blessed to be well-fed throughout my treatment. My good days were spent trying to conserve energy to be with my kids, so cooking and grocery shopping took a back seat. Talk to the person struggling in your life—has someone already set up a meal train? Would it be helpful to have meals delivered a couple times a week? If a home-cooked meal isn’t workable, a gift card to a restaurant or meal service is a wonderful alternative.

Send a card or a care package.

Getting mail is special at any time, in my opinion, but getting cards from friends and family near and far during treatment always lifted my spirits while I was sick. My favorites were the cards with terrible jokes, but I also received many beautiful cards of encouragement. Receiving a little care package was also uplifting. I had several days of resting in bed after each chemo and devoured dozens of books shared with me by friends during that time. Consider sending a small care package with a book, a treat, a special blanket they can snuggle under while they rest, or something special for their kids to play with.

Spend time visiting or listening.

Often when people would ask what I needed, I would immediately answer, “Company!” I am a very busy and social person. To be sidelined from my usual routine for months was incredibly lonely. I loved to have friends drop by for a visit. Be sure to keep it short if it seems like your friend needs to rest. Ask if they need a ride to or company for appointments or procedures. Having friends along at my chemo appointments gave me something to look forward to about the appointment.

Whether you reach out in one or many ways, do something, even if it’s just sending a text letting the family know that you’re thinking of and praying for them. Being surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ is one of the beautiful benefits of struggling through hard times. God created us to need one another, so don’t be afraid to be the one who needs help or the one who offers it.

Kerry Ognenoff

Extra content

Organizing a Care Team: One congregation’s story

Holy Word, Austin, Texas, created its Care Team in 2018 to be the listener and identifier of community needs, to ask who will be the hands and feet of Jesus to meet these needs, and to connect the hurting with the servants.

The Care Team was designed to empower our members to become servants by caring for fellow church family needs brought to the attention of the team via our pastors’ insights or personal relationships. As a part of this work, the team also seeks to help identify members of the Holy Word community who are in need of support, guidance, or other services and to connect them with members interested in helping meet the need.

Our initial team duties included arranging helpers to organize and serve at funeral receptions, writing and mailing cards to members, providing meal support for new mothers, visiting shut-in members and bringing them gifts, and organizing frozen meal storage for future needs. In February 2019, we launched a recovery ministry. We have been working to create processes that will sustain these endeavors as volunteers come and go over the years.

Holy Word’s Care Team hopes to create more opportunities for our members to serve in ways that showcase their gifts while benefiting others. Helping others lets us show our love to God and our gratitude for his blessings. Research also shows that people get a boost of well-being when they volunteer and support others in service. The Care Team sees this as an opportunity to create a culture within our church family of awareness, encouragement, and servant leadership, and we are excited to watch this effort blossom and grow.

Amory Stephenson

Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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This entry is part 52 of 69 in the series parent conversations

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