I was just on the phone with a co-worker whose sister-in-law just got diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. He confessed that he has no idea what to do to help her. He doesn't live with her, and isn't all that close to her, but the general family unit is pretty tight, so he expects he will be seeing a lot of her. I told him that the worst thing he can do is ask her if she wants "anything." The best thing he can do is offer a specific something that he is already getting/doing.
For example, last night, Mom asked Dad what he wanted for dinner. He didn't know. He was still reeling from pain medication, was sleepy and sore, and just didn't have a clue. So I jumped in and said that I was going to have meatballs (porcupine balls) and zucchini for dinner, and did Dad want some meatballs? Now, I'm no fool. Meatballs are one of Dad's favorite meals; they are bland and yummy and easy on the tummy. So of course Dad perked up and said yes, meatballs sounded fine. He ate a HUGE plate of meatballs and zucchini, and was happy to do so.
Rather than ask someone who is sick and tired and sore to try to create a new idea out of thin air, give that person something to react against. Don't ask essay questions, but aim for yes-or-no questions with the implication that it's no trouble at all, you're doing it anyway. "Hey, I'm having meatballs for dinner. Do you want any?" Yes, I do want meatballs [when you fix them for yourself]. "Do you want another cup of tea with dinner?" (But *NOT* "What do you want to drink?")
Be sure that there is no implied guilt with the answer, either way. That's where the "you're doing it anyway" part comes into play. That way, you can build up some trust and credibility with your exchange with that person. And accept "no" as easily as "yes" so that the exchange starts and stays natural and reasonable. Don't badger the person. You're just happening to offer, not going out of your way to spend energy. It's the emotional equivalent of "While I'm up, can I get you anything?" without the dreadful trap of making the hurt/sick person fill in that anything blank. You've done all of the hard thinking work. The other person can just react as the mood of the moment strikes. You are giving them easy comfort, and making a role for yourself that is valued for that very ease that you are giving to them.
Do you see my meaning here?
I originally posted this as a locked post, but realized that this is the kind of information that I want everyone to have. Please understand that your mileage may vary, but so far, this has been something that has really, really helped with the various major illnesses in my family.