Sometimes it’s hard to find the right thing to say when a person you love is living with a serious illness.
“I’m so sorry” only goes so far in expressing your empathy and support, and often we hesitate before saying anything more just in case we somehow get it wrong. If you’ve never suffered from an illness – mental or physical – it’s hard to know what the experience is like and how to connect with people in a sensitive way.
Writer and illustrator Emily McDowell understands how hard it can be on both sides of the situation. At 24, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and underwent nine months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
“The most difficult part of my illness wasn’t losing my hair, or being erroneously called “sir” by Starbucks baristas, or sickness from chemo,” McDowell recalls on her website.
“It was the loneliness and isolation I felt when many of my close friends and family members disappeared because they didn’t know what to say, or said the absolute wrong thing without realising it.”
In recent months, McDowell has drawn on her experiences to design a series of ‘Empathy Cards’. The aim of the cards is to help people connect and communicate with their sick or suffering loved ones, in a way that’s both insightful and authentic.
“‘Get well soon’ cards don’t make sense when someone might not. Sympathy cards can make people feel like you think they’re already dead. A ‘fuck cancer’ card is a nice sentiment, but when I had cancer, it never really made me feel better. And I never personally connected with jokes about being bald or getting a free boob job, which is what most ‘cancer cards’ focus on,” McDowell writes.
You can purchase Empathy Cards (AU$5.75 each), and read more about the project, on the Emily McDowell Studio website. Our personal favourite? “I’m so sorry you’re sick. I want you to know that I will never try to sell you some random treatment I read about on the internet.”
Here is the whole series.
How do you express your support for friends living with a serious illness?