*Author Letty Cottin Pogrebin on her book How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick
Why do people find it so hard to know what to say to a sick or dying friend or family member? Author Letty Cottin Pogrebin of How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick, claims that many of us are uncomfortable with this subject because it brings our own sense of vulnerability and mortality to the forefront. Often we do not expect to contemplate our own end of life at that time, but the illness of our friend or family member forces us to think about it.
When we are with a sick loved one we can fall into clichés like "I'm sure you'll be fine," because the heartless words let us distance ourselves from our discomfort. To the sick person, though, it merely sounds dismissive. So what do we say? Pogrebin’s goal is to change the norms of illness etiquette so that, from the moment your friend confides in you with his or her diagnosis, the two of you can establish a policy of complete candor. The best way to establish this relationship is by saying, "I want to be useful and supportive to you throughout this ordeal but I'm not always going to know the right thing to say or do. I won't always be able to anticipate your needs or read your mood, so I hope you'll share what's helpful and what's not. Do you promise to be honest with me?” Of course, you can establish your own candor, but the example provided above by Pogrebin is excellent.
Pogrebin writes that sick people are already made to feel powerless by their illness and the healthcare system, so it’s even more important to offer the love and support that is needed to put their mind at ease.