How to help and care when a friend has AIDS

Story by Paul Nelson

WHILE serious illness is a fact of everyday life, AIDS has posed new challenges for everyone involved: not only individuals with AIDS, but also their friends. People who are in the prime of their lives have become ill, and their prospect for a long life may be seriously affected.

Their situation is not an isolated one, but it is shared by people close to them.

When someone you know becomes ill, especially with a serious illness like AIDS, you may feel helpless or inadequate. If the person is a good friend you may say, 'just call if you need anything'.

Then, out of fear or insecurity you may dread the call, if it comes. Here are some thoughts and suggestions that may help you to help someone who is ill.

Try not to avoid your friend. Be there - it instils hope. Be the friend, the loved one you have always been, especially now when it is so important.

Touch your friend. A simple squeeze of the hand or a hug can let them know that you care. You needn't be afraid … you cannot contract AIDS by simply touching … and hugs are very reassuring.

Call and ask if it's okay to come for a visit and let your friend make the decision. They may not feel up to a visitor that day and you can always visit on another occasion. Now is the time when your friendship can help keep fear and loneliness at a distance. They may be lonely and afraid.

Respond to your friend's emotions. Weep with your friend when they weep. Laugh when you friend laughs. It is healthy to share these intimate experiences. They enrich you both.

Call and say you would like to bring a favourite dish. Ask what day and time would be best for you to come. Spend time-sharing a meal. Your friend may have made preparations so be punctual.

Go for a walk or outing, but ask about and know your friend's limitations. Would they like to go to a pub, restaurant or theatre.

Offer to help answer any correspondence which may be giving some difficulty or which your friend may be avoiding, especially official forms.

Call your friend and find out if they need anything from the shops. Ask for a shopping list and make a delivery to your friend's house.

Celebrate holidays and life with your friend by offering to decorate the home or hospital room. Bring flowers or other special treasures. Include your friend in your holiday festivities. A holiday doesn't have to be marked on a calendar, you can make every day a holiday.

Check in with your friend's lover, wife, girl friend or carer. They may need a break from time to time. Offer care for the person who has AIDS in order to give the loved ones some free time. Invite them out. Remember they may need someone to talk to as well.

Your friend may be a parent. Ask about the children. Offer to bring them to visit.

Be creative, Bring books, periodicals, taped music, a poster for the wall, home baked cakes or delicacies to share. All these can bring warmth and joy.

It's okay to ask about the illness, but be sensitive to whether your friend wants to discuss it. You can find out by asking: "Would you like to talk about how you're feeling?" However, don't pressure, but talking can be comforting.

Like everyone else, a person with AIDS can have good and bad days. On good days treat your friend as you would any other friend. On the bad days, however, treat your friend with extra care and compassion.

You don't always have to talk. It's okay to sit together silently reading, listening to music, watching television … holding hands. Much can be expressed without words.

Can you take your friend somewhere? Transportation may be needed to a treatment centre, to the shops, to the doctor, or perhaps to a film. How about a drive to the country, the seaside, or a local park?

Tell your friend how good they look but only if it is realistic. If your friend's appearance has changed, don't ignore it. Be gentle, yet remember, never lie.

Encourage your friend to make decisions. Illness can cause a loss of control over many aspects of life. Don't deny your friend a chance to make decisions, no matter how simple or silly they may seem to you.

Don't allow them or their carer to become isolated. Let them know about the support groups or organisations of which you may have heard.

Tell your friend what you would like to do to help. If your friend agrees to your request, do it. Keep any promise you make.

Be prepared for your friend to get angry with you 'for no apparent reason', although it feels that you've been there and done everything you could. Remember, anger and frustration are often taken out on the people most loved because it is safe and will be understood. Don't take it personally.

Gossip can be healthy. Keep your friend up to date on mutual friends and other common interests. Your friend may be tired of talking about symptoms, doctors and treatments.

What's in the news? Discuss current events. Help keep your friend from feeling that the world is passing by.

Offer to do household chores, perhaps taking on the laundry, washing dishes, watering plants, feeding and walking pets. This may be appreciated more than you realise. However, don't do what your friend wants to and can do for themselves. Ask before doing anything.

Send a card that simply says: "I Care!"

If your friend is religious, ask if you could pray together. Spirituality can be very important at times such as these but don't burden your friend with your religious views.

Don't lecture or direct anger at your friend if they seem to be handling the illness in a way that you think is inappropriate. You may not understand what the feelings are and why certain choices are being made.

Help your friend understand any feelings of blame regarding the illness. Remind your friend that lifestyles don't cause diseases, germs do. This may be especially hard for both your friend ands you. Help however you can. Do not confuse acceptance with defeat.

If you and your friend are going to engage in sex, be informed about the precautions which make sex safer for both of you. Follow them. Be imaginative … touching, stroking, and massage can also be fun.

Talk about the future with your friend … tomorrow, next week, next year. Hope is important to them.

Bring a positive attitude. It's catching.

OASIS Trading Company Ltd
. is a charitable company registered in Cardiff (No. 3256975). Its remit and aim is to raise funds for people with HIV/AIDS through trading activities, charity care and share shops. Profits after expenses are given to Wandsworth OASIS AIDS Support Centre (Charity No. 1054632) for their general purposes. The company directors, staff and volunteers neither have control of, nor wish to control, the uses to which these funds are allocated by the Centre.

OASIS shops sell a wide variety of items including clothes, furniture, records, books, bric-a-brac. They sell almost anything if it is clean and in a good saleable condition.

The company is looking for facilities to recycle old clothes, boots, handbags, bed-linen and curtains.

The sale of these goods raises funds for the OASIS HIV/AIDS Support Centres. On referral, help is also on occasions given directly from the shops.

The company's Luton van and volunteers can help people move if that service is required, and can, if necessary, clear flats and houses by appointment.

The OASES are self help groups for people with HIV/AIDS, their carers, families and friends. Some members of the local Salvation Army started the Wandsworth OASIS in July 1989. OASES centres work closely with the Salvation Army in the UK and overseas. The OASES strongly support other expressions of work within the communities affected.

Volunteers give freely of their time for many hours every week to staff the shops. Volunteers work on the van and others arrange displays and publicity for OASIS. Since April 2000 a full time van driver has been employed.

You can help...
l By supporting with friendship people affected by HIV/AIDS
l By becoming a volunteer at one of the shops
l By donations of shop fittings and equipment
l By providing shop premises and storage space at a reasonable rate
l By donating to the shops those clean useful items you no longer need
l By regularly visiting an OASIS shop.

It is not generally known that Wandsworth Oasis Trading Co. Ltd. has three shops in the Wandsworth area at:
l 416 Garratt Lane, Earlsfield, SW18 (020 8946 5296)
l 547 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, SW11 (020 7924 7514)
l 40-42 Trinity Road, Tooting Bec, SW17 (020 8767 7555).

Information may be obtained from the following:

l National AIDS Helpline (Free) 0800 567123
l Wandsworth OASIS 020 8874 3230
l Wandsworth HIV Team 020 8789 5131
l Chalk Farm OASIS 020 7485 2466
l Belfast OASIS 0232 332855/320320
l Cardiff OASIS 0222 451693/487039
l Manchester OASIS 061 273 2081
l Black HIV and AIDS Network 020 7485 6756
l Catholic AIDS Link 020 8986 0807
l Positively Women 020 7490 2327