What do I say?
By. Sister Karen Zielinski
My neighbor wanted to see a hospitalized friend, but just “didn’t know what to say at the visit”. The friend was diagnosed with cancer.
When friends or family get sick, it can be an uncomfortable time of wanting to know how they are doing. There is concern about them and a want to know about their surgery, treatments, release date etc., but people are hesitant to visit or even call. What is the proper “etiquette”, if there is any, for visiting or calling someone who is ill or dying? Calling a sick friend is not an everyday phone call like telling someone about our errands at the mall or that there is a new movie showing in town.
Health problems are serious stuff. These times make people timid and tentative because this is neither a pleasant situation nor one that people deal with too much. Friends and loved ones do not want to say or do anything “wrong” or anything that is not sensitive to the sick friend.
The wise Rabbi Harold Kushner sums it up well, "At some of the darkest moments of my life, some people I thought of as friends deserted me--some because they cared about me and it hurt them to see me in pain; others because I reminded them of their own vulnerability, and that was more than they could handle. But real friends overcame their discomfort, and came to sit with me. If they had no words to make me feel better, they sat in silence … and I loved them for it."
Hospital chaplains have keen insights and wisdom regarding patients and family in the hospital. Chaplains and Hospice staff are well trained, and offer compassionate help not only to those who are ill, but can also guide family and friends how to visit and speak and be present to a loved one.
Sister Faith Cosky, OSF, a Sylvania Franciscan Sister and Chaplain at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, says, “There is no pat answer on what to say to a person who is sick. There is little one can say to make it better, whether the person is dying or will not recover. Prior to death, people might say ‘thank you, I love you, and I’m sorry”. The bottom line is what would anyone like to hear if he or she were the one sick? What would be comforting to you?”
It is important to ask the person how they are, to let them talk, or to tell you “what hurts” and not to presume you know how they feel. You don’t know. No matter what they say, take them seriously and validate their feelings. Let the person know you are there to support them, pray for them and help them in any way you can.
Sister Faith says, “When people say they ‘don’t know what to say’ tell the patient that, and most of the time a conversation will flow from that admission. Do not be afraid of sitting in silence with someone. They know you care.”
The biggest thing anyone can say is to be there. Your presence says it all.
Posted @ Wednesday, May 02, 2012 by Joan
Excellent insights. I find that people have the same reaction when someone dies. The grieving person is often left alone after the funeral because, "I don't know what to say." Often you just have to "be" with them. Go for a walk, send a card, take them out for coffee or lunch, go to a movie (you don't talk during those anyway)....and let the grieving person talk and tell the stories again and again.