Friday, April 26, 2013

'How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick'

If you read this blog, odds are pretty good that you know somebody who’s sick. I don’t mean somebody with a cold or a bum knee or even a crotchety hip. I mean somebody who’s seriously ill with a life-threatening illness, mostly likely a brain tumor.

If you’re the person who’s sick, I’m sure you’ve encountered somebody who visited you and said all the wrong things, things like:

“It’ll take time, but you’ll get over it.”
“Try to be strong for your children.” 
Or, my favorite, “It could have been worse.”

All of these belittle the situation, or the pain of the victim ,and just makes the victim feel worse. Ironically, the well-meaning friend/relative/business associate thinks that they are helping.

The problem is that the well-meaning but misguided friend/relative/business associate does not know the right thing to say. Luckily, Letty Cottin Pogrebin has written a handy book - entitled How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick - on the right things to do and say to really sick friends/relatives/business associates.

Here’s a snippet of a Barbara Mahany interview with Pogrebin from the last week’s Printers Row section of the Chicago Tribune which I thought was particularly lucid:

“Q: One of the first hurdles is knowing what to say — and what not to say — when a friend is first diagnosed, when the friend gets bad news, or when the illness goes on for months or even years. Give us the three most essential of your "10 Commandments for Conversing with a Sick Friend."

A: It's tough to choose, but I'd probably give these three priority: 1) Avoid self-referential comments or anecdotes. A friend suffering complications of pregnancy won't be helped by your childbirth story, nor will someone with a hacking cough feel comforted to hear, "You think that's bad? I had double pneumonia." 2) Never talk to a sick friend the way you talk to a child. Banish from your speech lines like: "Did we have our medicine today?" Or, "Now, that's a good boy!" Or, "I bet you could make a wee-wee if you really, really tried." Sick people are already made to feel powerless by their illness and the medical system. Don't make things worse by infantilizing them. 3) Think twice before giving advice. Even if you know ginkgo biloba supplements would do your friend a world of good, try to keep your opinion to yourself. Sick people are already overwhelmed with information, just trying to understand their own diagnosis can be a challenge. No matter how well-intentioned you are, don't complicate their lives any further with your tips. They have doctors for advice, what they need from you is friendship.”

1 comment:

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