The Do's And Don'ts Of Being Helpful To A Sick Friend

Taking care of sick friends is hard enough as it is, but figuring out how to talk to them in a way that's helpful is even tougher. The New York Times spoke with author Letty Cottin Pogrebin to find some of the better ways to help a sick friend.

Picture: CJ Sorg/Flickr

Being sick isn't a pleasant experience, and it's pretty hard for someone on the outside to really sympathise with a life-threatening illness. Pogrebin shares a few do's and don'ts to keep the conversation useful:

■ Don’t talk about people you know who had something similar and are now fine.

■ Don’t tell your friend she looks great when it is obvious that she looks anything but.

■ Don’t say “I know what you’re going through” unless you actually do.

■ Do draw up a list of possible chores you could perform -- picking up children at school, grocery shopping, mowing the lawn. Look and listen to cues from the sick person, or his caregivers, as to when it is appropriate to show up, and when it is a good time to leave.

■ Do realise that in the end you are powerless in the face of your friend’s illness, particularly if it is terminal. If you think a terminally ill friend wants to say goodbye, Ms. Pogrebin suggests, “gently open the door to a last conversation and leave it up to the patient to either close it or walk through.”

The idea here is to be helpful to your friend without being overbearing. It's a tough line, and it's a hard road for everyone involved. Still, with the tips above you can at least remain as useful as possible throughout the process.

Saying Less and Doing More [New York Times]


    This is a really great thing to discuss and something that most people are unfortunately clueless about. My #1 tip would be rather than saying "let me know if there is anything I can do", JUST DO. When you are seriously ill, you do not have the capacity to think about what needs to be done -- but the friends that just hop-to and do things that need to be done are worth their weight in gold. I cannot emphasise this enough!

    Some good tips :)

    My advice personally is when you show up, get the health talk out the way first - then just talk regularly for a while, don't dwell on the negative, it doesn't help anyone.

    And don't stay too long because you feel obligated, even if it's someone very close to you - visit frequently for short periods if at all possible.

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