My family, like many others, has had more than its share of health scares over the past couple of years. I was fortunate to have a wonderful group of friends who helped ease the bad times, but I also noticed that many people don’t know how to react to someone’s serious illness.
Yesterday I came across a fantastic and much-needed article in the New York Times on the etiquette of dealing with a loved one’s health issues. Someone gets a terrible diagnosis, and we want to help and comfort them, but oftentimes don’t know how, or inadvertently act patronizing. “’You Look Great’ and Other Lies” includes six things never to say to a patient, even though they may seem harmless. For instance, rather than asking what you can do to help, which makes the patient feel like a victim or burden, you should simply take action, even if it’s as basic as cleaning their house, arranging for a babysitter, or mowing the lawn.
Another point I found interesting is that it’s become a meaningless cliché to say “you’re in my thoughts and prayers,” even if we do mean it. Instead, the article suggests telling the person what they mean to you, which feels more intimate.
You should also avoid making overly optimistic statements which may not be realistic, commenting on the patient’s appearance, offering medical advice based on some article you read or herbal remedy you picked up in South America (leave that to the doctors), or constantly asking for health updates, which can make the person feel like a broken record.
I highly recommend that everyone read this article. Disease is something that affects all of us, and it’s important to treat the situation with grace!