Life presents us with many occasions to offer thanks or congratulations, but there are also times when a word of comfort is what is most needed. What do we say when we receive news our friend or family member has been recently diagnosed with a potentially life threatening illness? Few occasions require more tact. Here are some Dos and Don’ts for speaking an encouraging word with a positive voice to someone with a serious illness.
- Choose a comforting response that ends on a positive note. Such as, “I’m so sorry you are going through this, and I will keep you in my prayers,” or, “I am available if you need me and I will be checking with you often.” Do follow up on your offer, not only once, but throughout the treatment process.
- Listen. A person who is struggling may need a sounding board or a sympathetic ear to help work through difficult emotions. You can be of infinite worth to a person by simply listening.
- Offer reassurance. When someone is newly diagnosed with a medical condition, it’s nice to know friends and family will be there during difficult times. Feeling supported by others makes the battle easier and assists with a positive outlook.
- Ask questions. This gesture shows you are truly interested in what they are going through. They may be very communicative or may not want to share too much information at all. Respect their response, but let them know you are attentive and concerned.
- Offer a hug, when appropriate. For many people, human contact is a powerful communication tool. A sincere hug, or an arm around the shoulder is often appreciated. Be mindful of the relationship you share with the other person and use your best judgment before reaching out.
- Make negative remarks. There is no need to reinforce the seriousness of the situation by making an insensitive remark such as, “You must be devastated.” Expressing solely negative emotions may leave the person feeling helpless and discouraged.
- Make comparisons. “My cousin suffered many years with the same disease, so I know how scared you must be.” This response can be exceedingly distressful to hear. If you can’t offer a positive spin, refrain from saying anything at all.
- Reply with the phrase, “I know how you feel.” Unless you have battled the same illness with the same degree of severity, this response tends to minimize the person’s experience. People can have varying levels of the same and similar circumstances yet navigate the experiences in a dissimilar, and unique way.
- Be overly emotional. As a supporter, remember this is not about you – concentrate on the person you are comforting and make every effort to be uplifting and positive. It becomes more stressful when the person with the illness has to exert energy comforting their friends and family.
- Suggest a home remedy. Be careful with your opinions regarding a homeopathic remedy or herbal alternative. You aren’t aware of ingredients that may negatively interact with current medications or treatments. While you may suggest asking their doctor about a particular vitamin or supplement, steer clear from imposing your own opinion.