When you're writing a get well card it's important to select your words wisely. When someone gets ill or becomes injured, even day to day.
Showing You Care With Your ActionsShowing You Care With Your WordsKnowing What Not to Do or SayUnderstanding Chronic IllnessShow 1 more...Show less...Ask a QuestionRelated ArticlesReferences
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If someone you know is sick or ill, it can be hard to see him or her suffer while you're helpless to do anything about it. Although there is probably nothing you can do about her condition, you can show your friend you care by doing and saying the right things to be an encouragement during this difficult time.
Part 1Showing You Care With Your Actions
Part 2Showing You Care With Your Words
Part 3Knowing What Not to Do or Say
Part 4Understanding Chronic Illness
Here is what to say when a friend's child is sick from a hospital chaplain. and most likely need someone to just listen to how they are feeling.
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.
It isn’t easy for me to say it; my hearts beats a little faster each and every time I’m asked. I take a second to think is there a better way to say it?
I take a deep breath. I see that you’re waiting for my answer. My palms begin to sweat. I really don’t know how to say it without stunning you; the person who has asked me about my other children.
And I know what it is like to hear something you’re not expecting.
I remember talking to a mother outside a children’s ward, we were having a nice chat about the weather, the inconvenience of parking in the hospital and then I asked; “how many children do you have at home?”
The mother’s voice wobbled as she told me she had three, two at home and one had passed away.
I was not expecting her to say that.
What could I have said? I knew I couldn’t make it any better. We all know the death of a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. I felt such deep empathy for her. I said the same thing 99% of the population would say; “I am so so sorry”.
She nodded as silence fell heavy between us.
I stood watching porters, nurses and doctors rushing in and out of the ward. My mind was panicking, what do I say now? Have I upset her?
“I am sorry,” I repeated as our eyes locked again. “What is your child’s name?” I felt my head automatically tilt to one side.
We stood talking about her wonderful, funny bright daughter Sarah. She told me of Sarah’s sense of humour, her love of animals and how great she was with her younger siblings.
I smiled as this heartbroken mother became full of life talking about her Sarah.
I tried to hide my shock, sympathy and pity from her; I couldn’t understand how this mother was smiling and full of conversation about her daughter who had lost her life to cancer.
We spoke for about half an hour. She asked me about my children and back then, I was only at the hospital because my eldest son needed grommets. I felt bad, guilty even… telling her my two boys were otherwise healthy. She smiled and told me her youngest was in getting his appendix out.
“Thank you” she rubbed my arm as she got ready to go back into her son.
“Thank you for telling me all about your Sarah” I felt the lump in my throat but pushed it down.
“Thank you so much for asking about Sarah and not the cancer.”
“Thank you so much for asking about Sarah and not the cancer.” She walked back into the hospital and I never saw her again.
That day and that conversation has stayed with me for many years. The strength that mother had was incredible.
I didn’t know how that ‘head tilt’, that ‘pity’ and that ‘I’m sorry’ would be things many strangers would do in my presence.
Shortly after that hospital visit, my eldest son Ethan, was diagnosed with a terminal rare disease called Hunter Syndrome- a progressive syndrome which would in time, leave him unable to walk, talk , eat and communicate. If he saw adulthood, he would need the same level of care as a baby would.
How do I say all that when I am asked about my children?
Like every parent; I want to talk about my greatest joy – my boys. My three wonderful boys.
I don’t want to upset, educate and lecture other parents who have simply asked an everyday question.
I take my time when asked about my children. I still get a bit nervous; nervous that I am going to stun and shock.
I have three boys, Ethan who is almost 14, J who is 11 and a dictating toddler D, who is 2 and a half (that half is very important to him).
We laugh when I say that, then comes the usual and fair observation “Wow you’ve a houseful ; I bet the older two are a great help to you, especially the 14 year old, he must be a great sitter.”
Like all parents, I am not going to lie or mislead about my children but if this is said to me as a parent is leaving I normally just smile and nod, but if the parent is sitting beside me and watching both our toddler’s play/argue; I feel compelled to correct that assumption.
I take a deep breath and respond “Not so much, no. My almost 14 year old has disabilities and my 11 year old has ADHD, so no not babysitters at all.” I tend to make eye contact with the person asking me the question at this point; I don’t know what I am looking for in that moment- acceptance… understanding… an interest… questions…
“Oh right, what disability does your son have?”
“He has Hunter syndrome.” I know they will have never heard of it, I wait all the same for them to state that and ask, as I prepare myself for telling them what it is.
It isn’t easy for me to say it ; my hearts beats a little faster each and every time I’m asked. I take a second to think is there a better way to say it?
“Oh, can’t say I’ve heard of it. ADHD I’ve heard of. What’s Hunter syndrome is it like Down syndrome or something like it?”
And so I explain that it is a terminal condition which has currently no cure. I explain that I’ve to watch my son regress through his life rather than progress. I explain that Down syndrome and Hunter syndrome have one thing and only one thing in common: they are both syndromes, meaning you can see the syndrome in comparison to the likes of ADHD which you cannot see.
An awkward silence hangs in the air, one of which I’ve become accustomed to.
“Jesus, I am so so sorry.” I am not surprised by this response at all, it’s very common and very understandable.
Of course you’re sorry, you’re human, you’re thankful it isn’t your child, but you are genuinely sorry that it is another mother’s child. I am sure that, that sorry is a mixture of empathy and pity…
I don’t feel any anger for you saying that you are sorry.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry that my son is ill, I’m sorry that my son has to live with such a cruel syndrome and I’m sorry my little family will be broken beyond repair.
“Me too,” is how I respond.
Ask me about my son.
Ask me his name.
Ask me what he enjoys.
Ask me what he is like.
Always, always put the person before the disability or illness.
Ask about Ethan first. The syndrome second, I know you’re curious about a syndrome you’ve never heard of, but always, always put the person before the disability or illness.
As for the ‘I’m sorry’ sentence; in my personal circumstances, it doesn’t bother me, simply because I am sorry too.
What does bother me is that head tilt; one I was so used to doing before Ethan diagnosis. It screams pity…I don’t want pity, I don’t write about my life and Ethan’s life for pity.
The confusing thing is empathy can often look like pity and I am all too aware of that… when I get that head tilt along with the “I’m so sorry,” I often find myself remembering my encounter with that mother outside the children’s ward… my intentions were honest and full of empathy… I know what it is like to be the parent who wasn’t expecting such a devastating answer to a very average question.
I write to hopefully raise awareness of Hunter Syndrome and rare conditions, I write to record all the wonderful things Ethan has done, has taught us and is still doing.
Ethan is almost 14; he still laughs, walks for short distances, talks with some words, cuddles us, kisses us, understands basic language and he still eats …he still tells me “I lobe you” – in a world where no one is promised a tomorrow;, I think we are doing quite well.
So don’t feel too ‘sorry’ for us. We are very lucky to have a child like him and to be shown a secret world which has changed our perspectives on so many, many things…yes it is ‘sad’ but Ethan doesn’t need “sadness;” he needs love, laughter and to live his life to the best of his abilities.
Yes, I’d be lying if I said it’s an easy life, but I am trying my hardest to give Ethan and his brothers happy memories. I cry… I scream… I am heartbroken; I didn’t know such heartbreak existed… but my boys don’t need to witness that, so I lock that away and talk about it to those who I know will understand.
Don’t most parents do the same thing with their worries? I am just like you, but different.
I want Ethan’s life on record because he is a gem and who better to record it than me, his mammy?
Get well cards have the potential to influence the thoughts of an ill friend and perhaps I just don't like to see someone as nice as you suffer.
Just like when you lose something important, finding out that you or someone you know has cancer can initiate and require grieving. Cancer leads to a loss of health, comfort, and time. Emotions can be intense. Fear, anger, sorrow, or other feelings may be present. Keep that in mind and use the following sample of what to write to someone who has cancer.
It's easy for those with health problems to complain about what we don't want to hear others say to us. Here are some helpful things to say.