When a friend or family member is seriously ill, it’s normal to want to say something to comfort them.
But before you say something you might regret, consider these “commandments” from the book How To Be A Friend To A Friend Who’s Sick, by breast cancer survivor Letty Cottin Pogrebin:
Celebrate good news. For example, if a friend just had cancer surgery, and tells you their doctor “got it all,” our expert says the correct thing to say is, “That’s great news.” That’s better than asking something like “How does your doctor know they got it all?” – which could be demoralizing for a patient to hear.
Don’t minimize bad news. Meaning, when someone tells you about a serious diagnosis, the last thing you should say is, “Don’t worry. These days doctors can fix anything.” Because you may not know all the details of their condition, and giving them false hope is cruel.
Never try to relate their experience to your own life. Like when a co-worker tells you about their battle with diabetes, don’t say: “I know what you’re going through. My Mom has that, and she’s fine.” Even though your intention is to make them feel better, comments like that come across as insensitive and rude. Focus on their experience only, and say, “I can only imagine what you’re going through.”
The only person who gets to say things like “why me?” or “life’s so unfair” is the person who’s actually sick. Meaning, your only job is to offer comfort – not complain – even if it’s just by listening.