A reporter and editor at a Twin Cities newspaper had lung cancer, and he kept working for months after learning that he would die of it.
But he noticed that he was making his colleagues uncomfortable. Some avoided him; others spoke to him awkwardly, trying to find something appropriate to say and keep from saying anything that might make him feel bad.
"It's like I'm dead already," he complained.
It can be difficult to know what to say to someone who is sick, and even more difficult when someone is dying.
We talk with two guests who have advice for people whose friends are facing a health crisis or worse. Both survivors of breast cancer, they understand the needs of the sick person and the impulses of well-meaning friends.
LEARN MORE ABOUT BEING A FRIEND TO THE SICK:
How not to say the wrong thing
Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie's aneurysm, that's Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie's aneurysm, that was Katie's husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. ... Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, "Life is unfair" and "Why me?" That's the one payoff for being in the center ring.
Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings. (Susan Silk and Barry Goldman, the Los Angeles Times)
The Dos and Don'ts of Helping A Sick Friend
Don't tell her about that miracle treatment you heard about. It's natural for you to feel like you should offer advice, but fight the urge. "Part of why disease makes us so uncomfortable is that we feel powerless," says Pogrebin. "But so much advice is dizzying. She has a doctor for that. She needs you to be her friend." (Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Ladies' Home Journal)
But I Don't Know What to Say...
"It's important to differentiate between 'spiritual' and 'religious'," says Sara, another woman in her fifties with cancer now defying intervention. "People willing to share their thoughts on the possibilities of something more than this mortal life have been really helpful to me. But I know others who want to dump their own religious certainties on me and that can be terribly offensive." The "just listen" admonition may be particularly appropriate here. (Fran Johns, Beliefnet)