Even the most vocal and socially adept people land in situations where they’re not sure what to say. This is particularly true when confronted with a friend’s illness or grief. Naturally, we want to be kind and helpful, but may unintentionally say the wrong thing. An article on AARP.org addresses what to say, and maybe more importantly, what not to say to a sick or grieving friend.
The article highlights a book, How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick by Letty Cottin Pogrebin, that very candidly offers guidance in the fine art of being a compassionate and clued-in friend. Pogrebin, a breast cancer survivor talks about the some of the worst comments to avoid:
- “Maybe it happened for the best.”
- “You’re going to be just fine.”
- “I know exactly what you’re going through.”
While it would seem to be supportive to ask, “What can I do to help?” Pogrebin explains it shifts the burden of thinking of something back to the friend. If you follow with, “I really mean it, anything that would be helpful, please let me know” and make suggestions, like offering to go to the grocery store or run errands will help your friend think of things. Maybe walking the dog while he’s at doctors’ appointments or clinic treatments?
What Should You Say?
A sick close friend will know that what you say is heartfelt and honest, even if you make a blunder or two. It’s difficult for us to see someone we care about in emotional and physical pain or grief and causes us to confront our own fears and feelings. Some things author Pogrebin suggests you do say:
- “I’m so sorry you have to go through this.”
- “Tell me what’s helpful and what’s not.”
- “Tell me what to bring and when to leave.”
The last one is particularly important, because sick and grieving people have limited energy to expend and asking for limits is helpful. Don’t forget to focus on the whole of who your friend is, not just “Cancer Girl.” Disease or grief is not the only defining characteristic of the person.