As a graduate student in public health, I spent my days talking about illness and death. A few months later, a very large yet benign tumor was removed from one of my On that night, I wish I had acknowledged how scary things were for him. . If you do make food for someone on a restricted diet, know that you are not just .
How do you talk or care for someone who is seriously ill? The most important thing to remember when someone you care about is that they are in pain — physical and/or emotional — and that your attention should be focused on what they need. Dale Atkins, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of “I’m Ok, You're My Parents,” gives advice on how to say the right thing to ease their pain.
"Let’s think together how I can be helpful and if there is something I can do that would make you feel better," is an excellent way to open a discussion, although it may difficult for your friend or relative to answer. After all, most of us are taught not to burden others with our problems. It may surprise you to learn that, most often, what the person needs is for someone to listen sympathetically, thereby sharing the burden of their suffering.
When someone is ill and cut off from their daily life, a visit or call or note from someone reminds them they are remembered, part of a community and are cared for. Dealing with friends or relatives who are very sick — or fear they might be — can be a challenge. They and their condition are always changing and often they do not know what is ahead of them. Most people want to know what to say to them. Do you try to cheer them up? Reassure them that things will be all right? Pray with them? Tell them about your own experiences with something similar? Ask if they would like to be in touch with someone you know who had the same illness? Help them to see that they may grow even stronger through experiencing the illness? Should you ask them for details of their condition? Is it okay to ask questions? How can you be a good listener? Is it better to ignore the whole matter and act as if nothing serious has happened?
What is important is that the person who is ill not lose his or her dignity. Illness carries with it a whole gamut of feelings: fear, anger, disappointment, hopelessness, sadness, grief, perhaps guilt or even shame. Recently, after receiving a questionable and confusing diagnosis, a dear friend said to me, "I’m furious. I'm scared. I try to keep laughing." People who are ill often feel dependent and often resentful about that dependence. When you are conscious of these issues, you will more likely respond in a sensitive way. If the person who is ill feels alone, they will likely feel more despondent. Healing the body is linked with healing the soul and it is the soul that also suffers when people do not treat them as viable, important parts of the family or community. Someone who can be a loving witness to all of the feelings a person who is ill has will be greatly appreciated. If you're curious about details of their situation, ask them if they feel like talking about it, rather than proceeding with twenty questions.
What if you're not a particularly good listener or you find the expression of deep emotions somewhat uncomfortable? A professional therapist is trained in precisely these areas, and may be of great help. But the contribution you can make is avoiding the mistake of ignoring the situation, glossing over or changing the subject. Few things in life disappoint us more than when someone we love "isn't there for us" when we really need them. And there are few times in life when we need our loved ones more than when we're sick.
Very often people don't know what to do. They think they should be able to make the person feel better or do something to relieve their suffering. They feel guilty if they cannot do it or sometimes feel guilty as well as relieved that they, themselves, are well. For the person who is ill, the emotional pain is often worse than the physical pain — which can be awful too — and feeling isolated or ostracized — which is different from wanting to be alone — can make an illness worse.
Visiting a person in the hospital or someone ill and homebound for a short period of time can lift someone's spirits but not if they have to "entertain" you or "fix themselves up in anticipation of your visit" which uses up much of their needed, and often, diminished energy. Be sure when you visit someone that you are "in tune" with how they are reacting to your visit. Better to leave while your friend has energy than to exhaust them so that they need to recover from your visit.
Physical and emotional touch can bring great comfort. Whenever it seems appropriate, give a hug or extend a hand, touch someone's arm, if they like, gently apply body cream or scented oil to the person's hands, arms or feet. For many people who are ill, they wonder whose body they are in. They feel unattractive and wonder if they are still desirable. By touching someone — if appropriate — you can help a person to feel acceptable.
Generally, people who are ill need one or two items from the store and the effort it takes to get them usually isn't worth it or they may not be able to get whatever they need. Picking up groceries at the market and saying, "I’m going to the market for milk and eggs, can I pick some up for you? What else would you like? Not saying, "call me if there is anything I can do for you." that puts the onus on the person who is ill and that is what you don't want to do. But "I’m coming by your house and would like to drop off the groceries after I go to Costco," is really helpful. Bringing over a "hot pink" nail polish and all the fixings for a manicure or pedicure that you lovingly give to your friend can also lift her spirits and create an "easy" atmosphere for talking and listening.
Sometimes visiting is not helpful and offering not to come in for a visit is exactly what the person who is ill need, but they would appreciate an offer to water their outdoor plants outdoors or bring in the mail, an offer to clean their house, or chauffeur them to an appointment, can be very helpful. As can walking their dog, delivering dinner for their family, sorting the mail, doing the laundry. What do these things do? They help to give the person who is ill a feeling of being cared for and less overwhelmed. Doing a load of wash may take an enormous effort for someone who is ill, who cannot lift or bend, or who just cannot get out of bed. Offering to bring their child to religious school, their swim meet or on a fun outing as a distraction and also to make the child feel as if he or she is still important and can still have fun. This can do wonders for the person who is ill, because so many of their thoughts and worries are not just about their own well-being but about not being there for those around them.
Many people shy away from anything religious or spiritual yet when someone is ill, they often pray or ask for strength from a higher being. Your friend or family member may appreciate praying with you. Sharing an inspirational poem, passage or prayer can be extremely soothing, as can a tape or CD of relaxing music, chimes or nature sounds. Offer to go to the library to pick up some "books on tape." These can help the person who is ill pass long days of being in bed especially if reading or holding a book is too taxing.
Allow yourself to be available to the desire of the person who is ill. Be open. When someone is not well, the hours can drag but long visits with other people can be draining. Short, more frequent visits are often more welcome and establish a comfort zone so the person can say, "I’m not up to a visit but would love for you to drop off the baked chicken if you don't mind." it requires strength and wisdom to enter someone's space and not have an agenda. You may find that your visit is one where you sit and hold the person's hand. There are talking cures and silence cures. Being with someone can be extremely healing. Knowing when to talk and what to say...that is the key.
As long as you remain present, patient and extend unconditional support, offer yourself as a non-judgmental listener, you will likely do well.
Always sit down when you visit a person who is ill. Because they are feeling poorly, you do not want to emphasize the difference in "status" by standing "over" them. Try to be at eye-level.
If you want to talk, be sure the person who is ill wants to talk. Their treatment regimen or just the recovery process may be very taxing and exhausting. Or, they may not feel like talking. It doesn't matter that you drove an hour and only have a short time to stay. This is about what they need. It is important that you make the person feel it is okay that even though you traveled to see them, that if they are tired, you do not have to visit. This is the time you may leave or help them with something like clean up the kitchen, play with the kids, water the plants.
Don't force the individual to reveal feelings he or she is not able or ready to share. Be understanding without claiming to "know" what the other person is feeling.
Listen with sensitivity. Do your best not to interrupt and try not to anticipate what the person is about to say. This is not a time to finish their sentences. Listen with your body, your face, your heart.
If the person seems to be interested in talking, encourage them with phrases such as: "tell me more" or "I see..." nodding, reflect back what you heard by paraphrasing.
Share your own experience but do not dwell on it. Use it only to "level the playing field" and let this person know that you, too, have experienced a time in your life when you felt scared or threatened or incapacitated... and what you found helpful.
Respect silence if that is what is called for. Sometimes people stop talking to deal with their emotional response to what is or has been said. Use that silence to reflect yourself.
Specifically if someone is dying: if you find it difficult to talk about matters — such as if the person is dying — tell them you are having a hard time speaking about it. Describe your feelings because it is helpful for the person to know that you, too, find it difficult.
Do not change the subject. Follow the lead of the person who is ill or dying. He or she may go into areas that are difficult to hear but do your best to stay present. You are helping this person on their journey. Allow the person to express their feelings, including anger and bitterness, as they make their way through their own process.
Be careful with advice. Most people who are ill do not want advice, they want to talk things out to come to their own decisions. Sometimes, giving advice inhibits conversation.
Be generous with reminiscing, especially with people who are dying. Everyone wants to feel that he or she had an impact while they were here on earth. Telling stories about one's life is a way to do that and it is a great way to come to a feeling of closure.
Even if someone is very ill or dying, do not be afraid to use appropriate humor. Funny stories, jokes, sharing incidents where people said the wrong thing that you can now laugh about, lightens the scene and there is much therapeutic effect in laughter.
If someone is facing a health emergency or terminal illness, it can be be mindful that the person might be receiving dozens of well wishes.
If someone is facing a health emergency or terminal illness, it can be difficult to know the right thing to say. Do you tell them everything will be OK? Change the subject? Share the story of your Aunt Sally, who died of cancer 10 years ago?
The best response is something along the lines of, "I'm so sorry to hear the news. I'll be here to support you in any way I can," sociologists told Live Science. But you'd be smart to tweak this message on a person-by-person basis.
"There are no easy answers to what you should say or what you should do," said Amanda Gengler, an assistant professor of sociology at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. [7 Ways to Recognize Depression in 20-Somethings]
If the person is a close friend, family member or even an acquaintance, contact them as you normally would, by phone or email, for instance, the experts said.
"The best advice I can give is to offer to help in concrete ways," Gengler told Live Science. Often, people will say they can help, but the sick person has no idea what they are willing to do. It's easier for someone to take you up on a specific offer to babysit, drive them to treatment, or deliver groceries or meals, she said.
Sometimes, the sick person might just want to binge-watch Netflix for 3 hours with you. "Ask if they want company, or if they would rather have some time alone," Gengler said.
While it's good to reach out, be mindful that the person might be receiving dozens of well wishes, and that it's hard to respond to all of them. Don't expect an immediate, or even any, response.
"If the person reaches out, great," Gengler told Live Science. "And if not, don't get angry about it. Don't make this about you."
There are many reasons a sick person might not answer. They might feel too sick or tired. Also, while it's nice to get sympathetic messages from friends, it also can be emotionally exhausting. Countless somber reactions can emphasize the gravity of the situation, Gengler said.
"There's no easy solution to this, because the answer would obviously not be for other people to be flippant about an extremely catastrophic situation that someone is facing," she said.
But there is a way to take off the pressure. If you're emailing, you can include, "You don't have to answer this, but I'm here if you need me," said Deborah Carr, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
What NOT to do
If you learn that a friend is sick, don't evade them, Carr advised.
"In general, people avoid circumstances that make them uncomfortable," she said. "We're so worried that we're going to do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing, and so people often go underground."
But that's problematic, Carr said. "The most important factor that helps people deal with any problem, from terminal illness to divorce, is social support," she said. "It's really important that people are there — just simply showing up can be really powerful." [5 Ways to Foster Self-Compassion in Your Child]
After reaching out, don't minimize their situation by saying, "Look on the bright side: At least it's not X," or "Don't worry; it will be all right," the sociologists said. Also, don't try to one-up them by talking about someone who is worse off, they added.
"You don't want to invalidate their concern — that's going to shut the conversation down," said Linda Francis, an associate professor of sociology at Cleveland State University. "Because, quite possibly, everything isn't going to be all right. Any kind of forced or false cheerfulness is going to make the speaker feel better; it's not going to make the sufferer feel better."
Instead, you can validate their situation by saying, "I'm so sorry; how awful," Francis said.
Then again, it's hard to know how someone will react. One mother at a Ronald McDonald House whom Gengler interviewed disliked it when people said, "I don't know how you do it," Gengler recalled. "She thought, 'I'm a mom; you're a mom — of course you do whatever you can to save your kids.'"
After expressing concern and support, you can ask general questions, such as "How are you doing this week?" This allows the other person to take control of the conversation and share as much or as little as they want. In addition, don't give unsolicited advice, the experts said.
"It's OK to be encouraging, as long as you're not being unrealistic," Francis said. "The important thing is just to express your concern."
Follow Laura Geggel on Twitter @LauraGeggel. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.
This list of 25 best get well soon messages for friend that will let them know you are thinking about them.
Wishing you a speedy recovery dear friend. I pray to God that you feel better through each passing day. Hope you resume your normal life soon.
Having fun and enjoying happiness is not the same without you. Wishing you a speedy and full recovery from your illness.
Dear friend I want you to know that you are present in our prayers. We hope you can recover soon so you can be with us again.
You were always a tough person and I know that coming out of your illness will only make you tougher. I wish you a speedy recovery.
Your stay in the hospital is tearing me apart. You are always remembered in my prayers. Please, get well soon!
I’m eager to see you well again. Every day I pray to God to grant you sound health so you can get back on your feet soon.
I miss you so much and so does everyone else. We all miss you and wish you a speedy recovery. We especially miss your humor and your kindness. Take care and know that we are eagerly awaiting your return.
Get well soon, my friend. I am sending loads of good wishes for your fast recovery and good health. I wish for a very better health for you.
I send my best wishes for you to have a speedy recovery and do not forget that you can count with my help whenever you require it.
My prayer is that God will heal you miraculously from your illness so that we can have good times to share. Wishing you a speedy recovery.
Take this token from me, a basket full of love and happiness from someone so special to you. Dear, I wish you a fast healing from your illness and sound health for the remaining years to come. Please, get well soon!
Wishing you all the best with your recovery. And may you enjoy many more years with good health.
I’m missing you so much. Please don’t forget to take your medications as prescribed for you. I wish you a speedy recovery.
Your continue stay in the hospital has made everyone heartsick at home. I wish you a quick recovery so we can have fun together again.
My thoughts and prayers are with you during this horrible time. You’re not left alone and I hope to see you return to your healthy life soon. May God heal you soon and make you feel better to enjoy your life!
I was heartbroken to find out about your illness. I truly hope and pray that you get well soon and that you are back to your bright and bubbly self in no time.
Get well soon, my friend. Your absence makes me sad and I long to see you feeling better. Get well quickly because you are missed by so many. Take good care, take time to heal and know that many are praying for your speedy recovery.
I was heartbroken when I heard you were ill. I wish you a speedy and full recovery from your illness. Get well soon!
You are a great friend, with an innocent soul. We care for you a lot, and we are always there to support you. Take care dear and please get well soon.
Take this special gift from me, and I want to let you know that you are not alone on your sick bed. I wish you a fast and miraculous healing.
I wish you comfort, good health and happiness. Wishing you a fast recovery. May you enjoy sound health for many years to come!
Having you by my side everyday makes me happy. The more you stay in the hospital, the more unhappy I become. This is wishing you a speedy and full recovery.
If there is anything I can do to help, do let me know. Here’s wishing you a blissful speedy recovery, happiness, and good health to enjoy the rest of your life.
Your ill health has taken away our fun and happiness. We wish you were here with us and not on that sick bed that has kept you away from your friends and colleagues. We wish you a speedy and full recovery from your illness.
I wish to see you back to your normal health, my dear friend. I pray for your speedy recovery so that you can smile and be happy again.
I hope you enjoyed this great collection of best get well soon messages that will encourage your friends.
Offer to Help (note all of these are pulled from Hallmark Get Well Wishes: What to Write in a Get “If you need me to come over and tell you that you don't look sick, call me. [Tip: a simple miss you and steer clear advise about health will be very effective.] What's the best response to someone who says "Get well soon"?.
When loved ones are sick, you’re desperate to find ways to comfort them. Unfortunately, your well-meaning attempts can sometimes fall flat. To help you navigate these sensitive situations, we asked Fran Walfish, PhD, a relationship psychotherapist, author, and consultant on CBS’ “The Doctors” to give us some pointers. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to help you truly comfort the sick people in your life.
The biggest mistake people make is being vague, so DON’T ask “How can I help?” Walfish says. Patients don’t want the burden put on them to come up with something you can do so if you really want to be useful, identify something that needs doing and offer to do that. Think cooking dinner, cleaning, babysitting children, driving them to appointments, or picking up groceries. If you’re still tempted to be general this powerful story will convince you to stop saying “Let me know if you need anything.”
DO say, “Do you want me to come over while you wait for test results?” Having someone available when they get emotionally charged news can be invaluable, Walfish says.
DO say, “I’m bringing dinner Thursday. Do you want lasagna or chicken?” Giving them a choice allows them to state a preference without overwhelming them. Be sure to ask about allergies and how many people will be eating. Consider bringing a meal that can be easily frozen and reheated.
DO say, “I have Monday free if you need me to run some errands or take you somewhere.” Letting them know your schedule isn’t being picky, it’s a kindness. This way they won’t feel as if they’re imposing, she says. Is it a mental illness? Try these 12 tips to help someone with depression.
DON’T say, “You look great.” Very sick people are aware that their hair is falling out, their skin is covered with sores, or they’ve become skeletal. Avoid commenting on appearances totally or stick to things that feel more genuine, Walfish says. For example, “Your eyes are sparkling” or “I can see your determination.”
DO say, “Can I take your kids for a play date? My kids would love to have friends over.” When a parent is sick, their children often suffer as well. Keeping them as normal as possible will also help their parent feel better by letting them know their little ones are being cared for, she says. For more ideas of what not to do with kids, check out 45 of the worst tips parents ever got.
DO say, “No response necessary.” Patients, especially those with long-term illnesses, can get overwhelmed with the burden of keeping everyone informed and feeling appreciated. Take this burden off of them by letting them know you don’t expect or need a reply if they’re not feeling up to it. When you drop off a gift or meal, tell them that no thank-you card is necessary. (And consider letting them keep the Tupperware too!)
DO say, “I don’t know what to say, but I care about you and I’d like to listen.” It’s totally fine to admit that you love them but you don’t know what to do, Walfish says. Most people are thrown for a loop by a serious or chronic health condition. This also gives them an opening to talk if they like.
DO say, “I need to go now.” Most sick people cannot handle long visits so don’t overstay your welcome. Try visiting for 20 minutes, even less if the patient is tired or in pain. And while you’re there, wash a few dishes, clean the room, and take out the trash when you leave. Do you know the two words to never say to a friend going through a crisis?
DO say, “Would you like to hear the latest updates on our friends?” When you don’t know what to say, a change of topic goes a long way—here are 11 more golden rules of good conversation. Patients are often sick of talking about their illness and will be excited to hear how common friends and family are doing. You can also bring up more general news—almost everyone has an opinion about the senator’s indiscretion, the underdog in the playoffs, or the latest celebrity gossip.
DO say, “Do you just need to vent? I’m all ears!” And then, listen. Listening attentively can be the best gift you can give a person, Walfish says.
DO say, “I really admire how you are handling this. I know it’s difficult.” A little sympathy and a compliment are almost always welcome.
DO say, “It’s okay not to be the perfect sick person.” Patients can feel a lot of pressure to “be strong” “stay positive” or “fight hard”, even when they’re feeling sad and weak. Let your loved one know that however they are feeling is acceptable and you don’t expect them to be the poster child for cancer, Walfish explains.
DO say, “I love you.” When all else fails, simple, direct emotion is the most powerful gift you can give a loved one going through pain. It doesn’t need to be fancy. It just needs to be sincere.
If the sick person is you, be sure to check out this guide: How to Survive a Health Crisis or Chronic Illness.
Afraid of saying the wrong thing to someone with a serious illness? Now there are "empathy cards" that make fun of those well-meaning but.