Coping with illness


By Catherine Francis

‘Having supportive friends is crucial if you’re coping with illness alone.

‘When I’m ill, I prefer to be left alone and not fussed over. But it’s horrible when you’ve got no food in the house, or you can’t get to the doctor or pharmacist, and there’s no one to help.

‘Help is available – but you need to know where to look, and you need to ask.’

The single life can have its advantages, but when sickness strikes, being alone can make it a lot harder to cope. A temporary illness, such as an infection or recovering from a routine operation, is bad enough – but it’s a whole other matter to deal with a serious, chronic or life-limiting illness, such as cancer, on your own. Even if you have flatmates who are willing to help in the short term, they can’t be expected to become full-time carers. And for single parents, even taking to your bed for a few days may not be an option.

Whether you’re facing a short-term, long-term or life-limiting illness, there are ways to make living with sickness as a single person a little bit easier. Here’s what other single Christians suggest…

‘Accept all help… and don’t be afraid to ask’

It’s not always easy to accept help – we often brush away offers with “I’m fine” or “Don’t worry about me”. But this isn’t a time to struggle on alone. It’s important to conserve your energy when you’re ill – and don’t forget, it often blesses others to be able to help. So now’s the time to consider accepting offers from friends, family, neighbours and church members.

If you need assistance – for instance, a lift to hospital, some shopping or taking the kids to school – people are often pleased to help, but they might not think to offer or may be shy about suggesting it, so don’t be afraid to ask. If you’re worried about being a burden, you can spread requests out across as many people as possible. Many churches will put requests for help in their weekly church notices or emails, so make use of that if you can.

‘Being ill is the only time I hate being single – I’d love to be brought chicken soup in bed and spoonfed Night Nurse! If I’m sick and can’t get out, I will eventually ask for help. Having supportive friends is crucial if you’re going to cope with illness alone.’

‘Find out what services and benefits are available’

There’s often more help available than you might realise. If you’re unable to visit your GP, many doctors will email prescriptions, and pharmacists will deliver medication if you’re housebound. If you need treatment at home, you can be visited by a district nurse. If you can’t get to a medical appointment, you may be eligible for hospital transport. And if you have a life-limiting illness such as cancer, your local home care team, cancer nurse or hospice team can arrange a home care package for you.

Your GP is your first port of call for local medical services, but it can take research and persistence to get what you need, which can be overwhelming if you’re ill and exhausted. If that’s the case, a friend or church member may be willing to make some phone calls for you.

There are lots of community services available if you need help at home, including care visits, equipment and adaptations to your home. To find out more, visit these Citizens Advice Bureau and NHS website pages.

It’s also important to find out what financial benefits are available to you, as long-term sickness can impact badly on your finances, especially if you can’t work. It’s best to contact your local benefits office sooner rather than later, as benefits won’t be backdated. Staff are not obliged to tell you if you’re missing out on benefits you don’t know you’re entitled to, so visit Citizens Advice Bureau website for a full list of benefits and some useful helplines.

‘If you need help, it’s there for you – although as a nurse, I know a lot of information about home care services isn’t widely known, unless you’re aware and able to search for it. As for end-of-life care (my speciality), there are nurses for that situation. Most things are available at home, and no one should be struggling on their own.’

‘I’m alone… but not alone. I’m in supported accommodation and my doctors come out to me. There is help out there if you ask – if you own a phone, you can access help. And with the Lord in your life, you are never truly alone.’

‘Hurrah for internet shopping – even if I feel like I’m at death’s door, I can always order food online. I also stockpile when I’m well – cough medicine, painkillers, cans of soup – so if I get struck down, I don’t have to venture out.

‘Keep your church leader informed’

Many people feel forgotten by their churches when they’re ill, especially if they find it difficult to attend regularly. It’s sad when churches don’t look after their members as they should, but it’s easy to drop off the radar when there are so many needs clamouring for attention. If you keep your church leader informed about how you’re doing – perhaps a call or email every couple of weeks – they’ll be able to pray for you, and encourage church members to reach out. Most church leaders see home visits to chat, pray and administer communion as part of their ministry, so you shouldn’t be afraid to ask.

‘My vicar is very busy so he doesn’t always think to get in touch with me – but he’s always keen to hear how I’m doing when I call him, and it’s good to know my church is praying for me.’

‘Fall back on family’

Not everyone has family members they can rely on – or who they feel safe turning to during tough times. However, serious illnesses that require a lot of care, especially end-of-life care, are when many families come into their own. If relations are willing to open their homes to you and give you the help you need during serious illness, this may be the time to consider swapping your independence for the care and company of people who love you.

‘When severe Crohn’s disease meant I had to leave my job, my parents welcomed me home with open arms. At 39, it’s not easy to have your mum looking after you again like a child – but I’d rather it was her than anyone else, and I’m very grateful for my family’s love and care.’

‘It’s good to talk’

Living with long-term illness doesn’t just take its toll physically – the effects on our mental health, social life and emotional resilience shouldn’t be underestimated. If you have the energy, it’s a good idea to invite people round as often as you feel up to it. No one will expect you to play the brilliant host – they’ll be happy to just sit with a cuppa and chat. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings with people who are willing to listen – even a professional counsellor, if that’s practical for you.

Social media can also be brilliant for staying in touch with the outside world and maintaining contact with friends. There are also many chatrooms, support sites and Facebook pages for different conditions, where people can chat, share experiences and trade advice. 

'When I was out of action before and during spinal surgery, I learned two things. One was that even when I was laid up and had no idea how long it would last (forever if I ended up paralysed), I could still encourage others through social media, texts and phone calls – it was better than feeling sorry for myself. The other was that worshipping God and reading his word sustained me. I’d never known such pain, fear and isolation, but I tried to keep a positive spirit and a sense of humour, and I saw God carrying me through.'

‘Keep your eyes on God’

People may let us down, but our heavenly Father is always there. Prayer and communion with God can bring an inner peace we never expected in a dark situation. Many people who live with serious illness and disability say their experience has brought them closer to God. You may struggle to understand how God has allowed your situation, and it’s natural to battle with doubts and anger. It’s nothing to feel guilty about, and you can still ask God to draw close and give you strength.

‘I live with fibromyalgia, arthritis and severe diverticulitis, which are all very painful. John 16 v 33 says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Despite all the problems we face, if we hold onto God’s promises, he will see us through and we will survive the storm, and others will see his will done.’

With thanks to: Kia, Robyn, Isabell, Lisa, Cathy, June, Melanie and Andrew.


Church leaders, we have a page here to help you support single members of your congregation during illness.