What NOT to do when a friend is ill.

Ill Friend

As nurses know, when you are sick friends and family can contribute to healing, or slow the process with unconsidered words and actions. Here are some tips on what NOT to do and say, based on feedback from experts on friendship and illness, as well as those dealing with chronic or short-term diseases.

How to help, not harm, a friend’s healing process:

1.- Rushing in and saying something ill-considered or insensitive.

What are examples of what not to say? The top three are: “I know how you feel.” (Really, you don’t.); “But you don’t look sick.”(What? Am I faking it?); “You have to have a positive attitude.” (Am I such a negative Nelly that I gave myself cancer?)

2.- You fail to show up and be there for a friend.

Maybe you didn’t think that your relationship was a close one, but your friend did and so was crushed when you were a no-show. Examine how much intimacy you two had. For instance, did you get together outside of work? Did you share secrets? Did you feel like you didn’t have to put on a “game face”? Those are good signs that you did have a close friendship and should step up your involvement.

3.- You press in and don’t give your friend any room to just be.

Even if you have a deep connection, your friend may want privacy and personal space while sick. Respect that. If you notice your friend isn’t calling or returning texts, that’s a good sign that you may need to back off a bit and not press in closer.

4.- You offer to do too much and then resent it or don’t follow through.

If your friend is suffering from a short-term, non-acute, and clear-cut illness, then it’s easier to offer help and be sure that you can come through cheerfully. If not, be sure you know your limits before you commit to any action. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than the opposite.

5. Make your friend’s illness the centerpiece or your contact.

Your friend is more than her illness so don’t feel that you can’t discuss other topics. If she’s always been interested in celebrity gossip, ask if she’d like to hear your thoughts about the latest People cover story. Try to maintain some normalcy so she doesn’t feel like her illness has robbed her entirely of her life and pleasurable distractions.

6. Being too hard on yourself when you mess up.

Illness and friendship is uncharted territory for many of us and we will make mistakes. Expect that you will do and say the wrong thing and that may be hurtful to your sick friend. But know that it’s better that you flub a attempt to show love and concern, than that you never try at all.

Jebra Turne is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon. Visit her at www.jebra.com.

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