When there's a critical sickness or death in your social circle, emotions necessarily run high. Using the Ring Theory can help determine who to comfort and who to vent to.
While it's often obvious at the outset who needs the most attention (the person who is sick or their family), but needs can get mixed up as time wears on:
When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favourite came from one of Susan's colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn't feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague's response? "This isn't just about you."
"It's not?" Susan wondered. "My breast cancer is not about me? It's about you?"
To avoid being unintentionally insensitive, Susan developed Ring Theory, which works like this: Create a set of rings like the one above. In the centermost circle, place the afflicted's name. Outside of that, place their loved ones' names. Friends go in the circle outside that and coworkers or acquaintances farther out.
If the person you're talking to is on a smaller circle than yours, comfort them. Offer support, encouragement and allow them to vent in any way they deem fit. Then feel free to vent your own frustrations to someone on a more outer circle than your own. Obviously this won't solve all of your problems if more than one person has severe problems, but it can help visualise complex situations.
How not to say the wrong thing [Los Angeles Times]