A few months ago, Mamamia Publisher Mia Freedman wrote about the things you should and shouldn’t say to someone battling a dire health situation. “Everything will be OK” fell on the list of things not to say, while “no need to write back” landed on the list of things you should say.
This is a response to that article from Denis Wright. Denis is one of those sick people whom the article refers to – he has a malignant brain tumor. Denis wrote this post on his blog and it is republished here with full permission.
“Do you agree with this?” wrote a friend yesterday who referred me to this site.
It was about what to say and what not to say to seriously ill people you are visiting.
I read it, and then passed it on to Tracey, without offering an opinion on it myself.
“What do you think of this?” I asked her.
To put you in the picture, if you’re not already aware of it, I am one of the people to whom the article applies. I have a malignant brain tumour; a deadly one, which by all medical histories, is not going to go away.
But I am fortunate to have quite a few friends and former colleagues who visit me.
When we compared notes verbally, it turns out Tracey’s views are pretty much the same as mine, and neither of us agree with everything in the excerpts. A lot of it is right according to our views, but some things I have quite strong reservations about.
Here’s what was said (and I thank Mia Freedman wholeheartedly for bringing this matter up):
Bruce Feiler author of “The Council of Dads: A Story of Family, Friendship and Learning How to Live”, recently shared an excerpt of his book in The New York Times. Bruce had bone cancer; he also had 3-year-old twins, a working wife, nine months of chemotherapy and 15 hours of reconstructive surgery to deal with. When someone asked his advice on how to handle a mutual friend’s brain tumour, he came up with a list of things not to say to someone battling a dire health situation:
1. “What can I do to help?” (Don’t ask, be proactive).
My response: I don’t agree. It is not necessary to be proactive unless you are certain what it is that they need or want. For me to expect proactivity is often asking too much of the friend, who is probably already aware of their own limited knowledge of the circumstances. If they think I expect proactivity, it may even keep them away.
Asking sincerely what you can do to help is fine, when you don’t know what you can do that will help. It could be that your ‘proactive’ help creates more problems than it solves, however well meaning it may be.