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What Not To Say To Sick People

Orr of The Guardian was diagnosed with cancer, and thus experienced first
hand what people say to you when you’re seriously ill.

She wrote:

What no one ever tells you about serious illness is that it places
you at the centre of a maelstrom of concerned attention from family
and friends. Of course it does. That’s one of the nice things. It’s
actually the only nice thing. But it’s also a rather tricky challenge,
at a time when you may feel – just slightly – that you have
enough on your plate. Suddenly, on top of everything else, you are required
to manage the emotional requirements of all those who are dear to you,
and also, weirdly, one or two people who you don’t see from one year
to the next, but who suddenly decide that they really have to be at
your bedside, doling out homilies, 24 hours a day.

So, to help all of us out, she wrote a guide to The 10 Things Not To
Say To Someone When They’re Ill:

1 "I feel so sorry for you"

It’s amazing, the number of people who imagine that it feels just
great to be the object of pity. Don’t even say "I feel so sorry
for you" with your eyes. One of my friends was just brilliant at
mimicking the doleful-puppy-poor-you gaze, and when I had been subjected
to a sustained bout of it, I used to crawl over to the local pub for
lunch with him, just so that he could make me laugh by doing it. Don’t
say "I feel so sorry for you" with your hand either. When
someone patted my thigh, or silently rested their paw on it, often employing
the exasperating form of cranial communication known as "sidehead"
at the same time, I actually wanted to deck them. Do say: "I so
wish you didn’t have to go through this ghastly time." That acknowledges
that you are still a sentient being, an active participant in your own
drama, not just, all of a sudden, A Helpless Victim.

6 "Whatever I can do to help"

Apart from anything else, it’s boring. Everybody says it, even
though your assumption tends to be that people do want to help, of course.
That doesn’t mean that help should not be offered. But "Can I pick
the children up from school on Tuesdays?" or "Can I come round
with a fish pie and a Mad Men box set?" is greatly preferable to:
"Can I saddle you with the further responsibility of thinking up
a task for me?" If you do happen to be on the receiving end of
"whatever I can do to help", be shameless. Delegate with steely
and ruthless intent.


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April 19th, 2012

Stranger to the World


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