Caring for someone with a chronic illness: What does it mean to “Watch”?

Welcome, my fellow Watchers!

First things first. Who are we? We are the family members, the friends, the spouses, the work colleagues of individuals with a chronic illness. That illness may be physical or mental. It may be recognized or undiagnosed. It doesn’t matter. What does is that someone we love is suffering.

And that’s hard.

Caring for someone with a chronic illness - otherwise known as "watching" them.
Caring for someone with a chronic illness – otherwise known as “Watching” them.

Why the term ‘Watcher’? I was searching for a word that was all-encompassing. I wanted to avoid the label ‘carer’ – which has connotations of being paid and seems constrained to mere physical care of another. Physical care is invaluable and many of us may provide this for our Loved Ones. Yet others of us do not. It may not be our place, our role, or it may not even be necessary.

Nevertheless, our life is still entwined with our Loved One. We wince as they wince. We struggle with the fact that we can’t heal them. We get frustrated over the fact that sometimes we can’t make the situation better, or even more bearable.

What does it feel like to Watch?

We find ourselves helpless, and this is painful and even embarrassing.

And this is even harder because we didn’t choose to Watch. Perhaps we were born into a family where one of the members was already sick, or perhaps they became so as we grew up with them. Perhaps we fell in love with someone, or began a friendship and then sickness came. Or perhaps we knew about it already, but still there was no choice because there was no sickness-free version of them available.

And so we walk beside them, or in front of them, or behind them. We cannot choose to walk a mile in their shoes, as the common saying goes. Even that is denied us.

There’s nothing we can do except Watch them suffer.

We are the healthy ones. We are the ones with the world at our fingertips and all the blessings a working body and healthy mind brings. We answer the question “How is your Loved One?” not the question “How are you?”

We Watch them and no one watches us.

We Watch them struggle, and attempt to communicate their ups and downs to others around us. We fail often, because there are no words. Meanwhile we suffer too. Vicariously, yes, as we see them go through agony, but in our own right also. Because there’s nothing easy about Watching.

Nothing at all.

Who are these “Watchers”?

It’s not some exclusive club. In a sense everyone is a Watcher, at some point of their lives. And we Watchers know only too well that there’s nothing heroic about suffering. Nothing distinguished about Watching. This is not because it’s hard, because there are plenty of miseries that are heroic, plenty of hard things that are worth applauding. The reason there’s nothing special about being a Watcher, is that it’s simply part of life.

There are so many illnesses, so many burdens. No person’s load – or pair of shoes, if we are to continue the analogy – is the same as another. And so all people Watch, but all Watchers are always alone.

Aloneness. That’s such a large part of what makes Watching so hard. We all fear being alone, and illness just accentuates this. We long for someone to stand by our side and grasp our forearm and say with that knowing, quiet voice and full eyes, “I get it. I understand.”

That is what this blog is for. Because there are two answers to loneliness. One is community, the other is God. May this blog point us to them both.

Why start a blog on Watching?

Being a Watcher brings its own unique problems and its unique joys. It’s a journey that goes on and on – and encouragement is needed for the everyday. Furthermore, it’s a journey that begins and ends, and we need help for those times too. It’s also a journey that, like every journey, will at some point encounter God. This blog is about that too.

I don’t have all the answers. Often I have none. I can’t guarantee that what I write here will help you. All I can pray is that these words will help you ponder your life as they have helped me ponder mine – and that your experience will be the richer for it. All I can hope is that they will provide a feeble sense of community and a less-feebler sense of God. Like C. S. Lewis, I have only,

“… been emboldened to write of it because I notice that a man seldom mentions what he had supposed to be his most idiosyncratic sensations without receiving from at least one (often more) of those present the reply, ‘What! Have you felt that too? I thought I was the only one.'”

~ C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

//Do you think it’s right to put a label on what Watchers do? What do you think Watchers need above all else? Don’t be a silent reader – share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

The answer to loneliness


20 thoughts on “Caring for someone with a chronic illness: What does it mean to “Watch”?”

  1. So true. Im a watcher for my mother and its hard as she gets so lonely at times. Im the opposite as so busy with life-work, my own family, mum,my 2 sister in laws and my own health problems. Its also hard for others to understand,but I know God hears prayers

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it is very hard because no two people’s positions are the same! I’m so thankful that God does indeed answer prayer, and that He is enough both for us and for our Loved Ones.


      1. Emily, I praise God that there are warriors such as yourself. Some of us suffer in silence and some are called to suffer for others but I believe that we are all called to suffer for Christ. Just as we are called to experience His joy.
        God Bless you and all who suffer. Just image when we are bless with our glorified bodies no more hurt and no more pain.


  2. In John 15:13‬ it states that the greatest display of love and commitment is to lay your life down for another. Being a carer is a living example of this sacrifice.
    As a carer you put your own dreams and desires on hold to care for someone else. As a carer you work long hours with little to no pay as well as little to no acknowledgement. As a carer you look for a miracle each and every day – the strength to face what’s in front of you; the courage to keep going; a breakthrough; a glimmer of light; a help in the hardship; and a fresh touch from God.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so true, Keona, that caring for someone day in and day out can be a beautiful example of Christ’s love, and also drive us closer to Him – because He is the only one who can truly bring hope in dark, monotonous situations. I also believe that accepting the gift of love and care from someone else is a way to mirror Christ’s love – because in the Trinity God both gives and receives. I’m so thankful for this reality!


      1. Absolutely! If you think of the relationship in the Trinity between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they both give glory to each other and receive it from each other. Ie. The Son says that He came to glorify the name of His Father, and the Father promises that the Son will be glorified above all the earth. The Son is humbled to glorify the Father, and the Father steps aside to glorify the Son. They give love to each other and accept the fruit of love from one another (ie. the Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father – and they show this in word and deed throughout the Bible). It is a perfect love relationship, and none of the members consider it “lesser” to receive love, as opposed to giving it (according to the Bible). Hope that makes sense! 🙂


  3. HI, Emily, I’m glad we’ve found each other! You and I, Watchers together. My family have all been Watchers, too, some from a great distance in that helpless agony of not knowing how they can help. My Watching has been that of the hands-on close and dirty, the sleepless, pain-filled nights — the first-hand view — like a first responder on the scene of a nightmarish accident. Only your view goes on, and on, and on, and you can’t go home from work and leave it behind.
    Some sort of community of understanding is beautiful, including the caring touch a friend who cannot possibly understand. Even more beautiful is Jesus who has borne all our griefs and carried all our sorrows. Thanks for reaching out to Watchers here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Pilgrimswife – thank you so very much for taking the time to leave such an encouraging and thoughtful comment. It made my day – to know that my writing can in a very tiny way, remind us that we are not alone, and that God is good. I am forever thankful that Jesus knows what it is to suffer and walks beside us. You articulated well the different types of Watching, and how perspective sucking they can be.
      Thank you again for stopping by and also for sharing your story on your blog 🙂


  4. A friend just shared this with me… and wow, I haven’t read a post yet, but I love the idea of this. Two of my three siblings have pretty serious mental illness, and I’ve lived with that for as long as I can remember. Tonight has been especially hard. This is an encouragement to me, reminding me I’m not alone in this position. Telling me it’s okay to have a hard time watching.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Olivia! Yay! I’m so happy you’re here and to hear that perhaps this blog can be an encouragement to you – I write in the hope that people will know that they are not alone. I’m so sorry to hear tonight was painful. It’s so hard watching people we love suffer, and especially as a sibling. My latest post was actually on that topic 🙂 Please let me know if this blog is a help, I’d love to hear feedback, or if you have any suggestions for posts or other questions 🙂


  5. oh honey. You have already followed what God wants from you. Your compassion and willingness to serve as a ‘watcher’ gives glory to God. You are so much more, though you don’t know it. You a daughter of the King. Bless your heart! Thank you for visiting my blog. I would love to feature you as a guest and this topic. There are not many who know what goes on behind the chronically ill person. Thank you for bringing this to the attention of those who endure as you have been, and to those who have not dug down into the layers of chronic illness! Wonderful, thoughtful, poignant article.


    1. April – thank you so much for your encouragement. It really, really means a lot 🙂 It’s so nice to know that we are not alone. I would be honoured to be featured on your blog, should we discuss via email? Mine’s in the ‘about me’ tab 😉


  6. I have been a “watcher” for 24 yrs. Watching a child grow with a chronic illness is many things. It is exhausting, lonely, frustrating , but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think that the Lord knew a good match when he gave me my daughter. I am also blessed to have a good husband that helps. He had to make a living for us, so the day to day was left to me.
    I was also blessed to be in the “sandwich generation”. I had parents and children to take care of. Again, all in all a privilege.
    You have to have faith to survive all if this. If you didn’t have it when you begin your journey you soon learn that there is no other way. I have learned to lean on God when I didn’t think that I could take another day. He has never let me down. The Lord has given me strength that I never knew that I had. I did this for all these years. I wasn’t alone. I have been humbled.
    I am thankful to find this blog. I’m glad to read of other watchers.


    1. Oh Julie, thank you so much for sharing your story! Such a beautiful testiment to the faithfulness of our God even when life is hard and a struggle. Likewise it is so good to know that in watching we are not alone 🙂


  7. WOW! Emily, you write from experience that only another Watcher can recognize, As a home care nurse before I retired, I chose to be a Watcher too – for 100’s of beautiful people. Yes, sometimes care is involved but that’s only a small piece of caring. It’s that being there for someone when you’re miles apart as well as being beside them. Without God as strength, I cannot imagine how one keeps going day in and day out. Now, I watch hubby as he goes through the trials of aging and he watches me as I deal with constant pain. Each of us wishes we could ‘fix’ the others problems but that’s not to be. And so we stand by each other as Watchers. Thank you for bringing encouragement and more so recognition of a time of life that as you say, we all go through at some point.
    Love, Hugs, and Prayers,


    1. NanaPennypockets! Thank you for your beautiful and encouraging message. We need more people like you doing home nursing – people who are passionate about it and sharing God’s love in practical ways. 🙂 I hope you continue to find Jesus in this blog.


  8. I am a 60-year old diner woman, who became chronically I’ll at 42. I have many friends for whom I am a watcher. “My” watcher is my husband of 37 years. He tirelessly walks alongside me in this rollercoaster called life.
    For us, our faith is what sustains us. I will be a frequent visitor and share the link to your blog with my watcher..
    Bless you.



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