The nature of my work involves many different things. One I have been particularly working with is what to say, what to do, and how to be when others around you are sick.
When someone is ill, has died or is bereaved, we often know not what to do, say or even feel. We are not taught about it in school. Even in all the disney movies, when the evil person dies it seems like they just take a leave of absence from the film and our beloved characters never process the loss of life. It’s hard and painful. It’s easy to grow numb to other people’s plights. And it’s easy to project your own feelings of being scared, nervous or even denial on to those who need you most in this time of hardship.
What to say:
“How are you?” – This is something that floats right off our lips. We think it’s the right thing to say. We want to know how are friends are doing, and show we care.
Imagine if you were very, very sick. Constantly in pain and suffering. The answer to that question is: “How am I? I am not well. Thanks for reminding me, and putting me in the awkward situation of telling you that life is not good at this moment. So instead I’ll make you feel better and tell you everything is fine…”
Swallow those words, and think for a second. Instead, I recommend saying: “It must be a really difficult time for you. I am thinking of you. What else is going on, anything good on TV lately?” Sometimes people who are sick don’t want to talk about their illness. They want to feel normal. It’s good to acknowledge your empathy, but not focus on it unless they want to talk about it. It’s different for everyone, but being sensitive to every situation, and feeling out what to say for each person is essential.
Another fault we often have is ironically offering to help. The sick or bereaved may need your help, but if you say “Call me if you need anything,” this puts the ball in their court to actually call you to solicit your services. Instead, bring over food you know they like. Ask a family member what needs to be done, and do it. Do a chore, pick up known loose ends, and your friend will be helped and that is your goal, right?
When someone does die, you can say to the bereaved words of support, like “I am sorry for your loss,” or “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” This seems simple and easy, but often people try and relate by talking about those they’ve lost, or try and consol the bereaved my saying “he/she is in a better place.” Who are you to say that? If you’re going to say something, talk about how wonderful the person was.
Or, don’t say anything at all. Sometimes silence is the best way to show support.
When to visit:
Make visits meaningful. However, sick people may be not feeling well enough to entertain you for hours. Be mindful of their condition. It always boggles my mind that most people choose to visit sick people when they end up in the hospital. They fly in, they trek from a far, and stay a few minutes. What about before they enter the hospital? Are they not sick enough?? Do they need you when they are in a coma barely able to communicate, or when they just need someone to come to their house and hold their hand? Unfortunately, people like to brag about saying they visited so-and-so in the hospital. It’s not on purpose, it’s human nature.
Funerals are usually a family reunion. Why? Come visit for birthdays. For holidays. For days when your loved one is alive. Don’t delay.
We don’t know what happens after death. Make the most of life, now.
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What has been helpful to you in times of need?