Things to Say and Not to Say to a Sick Person: Cheat Sheet!

I read a lot about what to say and what not to say to a person who is chronically ill.  There are lists and lists of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” and honestly, it seems like a lot to remember!

So, from my experience of being sick for nearly eight years, I thought I would just talk to you about the things people say to me, why it hurts me, and offer some suggestions about what you might want to say to your friends or loved ones instead.

If you have known me well for a long time and we talk a lot, please don’t keep asking me how I am feeling.  I have been sick for almost eight years, you don’t need to ask me how I am feeling any more. I’d much prefer something like “How are things?” or even “How are you doing?” You know, kind of what you say to your healthy friends?  If there is something new, good or bad, I will bring it up to you.

Please stop telling me to “Hang in There”.  I’ve been hanging for almost eight years, how much longer do you expect me to be able to hang for?

Now here’s what you CAN say to me.  I would really appreciate your honesty.  If you are my good friend or in my family, it’s okay if you say to me, in a heartfelt way, “I just don’t know what to say to you any more about you being sick”, and do you know what I would say?  “You don’t have to say anything.  Just be my friend, keep calling me, keep inviting me to your events, even if I can’t come, maybe sometimes I can.  Just talk to me like you would any person and if I want to share something with you about my illness I will.  Just keep believing me, and be my shoulder to cry on if I need you to.”

What can you do for me?  If you live close to me you can ask me if I need anything at the store because you are going, and for me going to the store can feel like climbing a mountain.  Ask me if I need something tidied up in my house. (I can’t remember the last time I cleaned my oven or my linen closet, I can barely keep up with the laundry.)

You can offer to cook a meal for me.  It is really hard for me to do, since I cannot stand, my hands hurt and I am exhausted.  You can offer to come and play with my son while I take a nap, he’s very nice, or to have a play date over at your place, with no reciprocation expected because I would not be able to do that.

And every so often, keep asking what you can do for me.  Because sometimes I am too proud or too sad to say, “Yes, I need your help”, but one day, I may just take you up on it.

I hope this helps people who have chronically ill friends and loved ones, and maybe gives them some insight about why we might bristle a little when you cheerily tell us to “Hang in there!”

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About mamasick

Emily Cullen is a pen-name. I suffer from chronic illnesses and diseases which include Bipolar Disorder, Asthma, Diabetes and Fibromyalgia. I had battled Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis but there is no longer evidence of me having these diseases and my Rheumatologist has declared them to be "burnt out" of my system. I am separated from my husband, “Grant”. Our son, “Tyler” was born in September of 2006 and suffers from tics and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and is delayed in fine and gross motor skills. In my blog I seek to let sick moms know that they are not the only ones going through this, and to educate people about what can happens when one becomes catastrophically ill. I also strive to break down stereotypes of what a “Welfare Mom” is like. Anything that I have gone through due to being sick, is written on the pages of Mama Sick.

11 Responses to Things to Say and Not to Say to a Sick Person: Cheat Sheet!

  1. Josanne says:

    Thank you for the information-I try to say the right things, or not say too much, but I’m sure I fail. I do ask people how they are feeling and doing, not because I am filling space, but because I really do care to know! One of my twitter friends has lupus, and her most recent updates on her health have made me wishing I could do something for her, but being 16 hours apart makes it not possible. I’ll try to remember tho-I certainly don’t want to offend by asking a question that hurts. Maybe it is the hope of those of us who are not in chronic pain to hear you say that you are having a very good, little pain day.
    Thanks again!
    .-= Josanne´s last blog ..A True- Modern Day Hero! =-.

  2. Aviva says:

    Eep. I have a bad habit of saying “Hang in there!” to people struggling through a flare. I’ll have to rethink that.

    Isn’t it funny that there’s really no single universally correct thing to say to a chronically ill person?

    Like you, I get so tired of having people ask how I’m feeling and pressing for an answer beyond the polite. The worst is when it’s from my parents, who will insist on an answer and then tell me they’d prefer not to know. Why the heck do they ask then?! Well, I know the answer to that, I guess: They keep hoping for a miracle that I’ll wake up one day perfectly healthy.

  3. Kristin says:

    I am involved with people who are going through transplants – heart, lung or liver transplants. My husband had a liver transplant 5 years ago, so that’s how I got involved.

    A few days ago I got a call from someone who told me that she appreciated that I didn’t gasp every time I saw her. She said it was just such a comfort that I didn’t treat her with kid gloves and also didn’t ask her about her illness unless she talked about it first.

    Many people who have liver disease have yellow eyes. I don’t even notice it anymore, but I’ve heard several people in our support group say that it’s nice to be able to sit in a room without the first question being “what’s wrong with your eyes?”

    I wish more people would ask for help from their friends. The friends are usually trying desperately to figure out how to help but don’t have a clue how to without coming off as being a busy body.

    Excellent advice and prayers to you.
    Kristin – The Goat
    via Saturday Samplings
    .-= Kristin´s last blog ..Hoarding and Flying =-.

  4. Emily says:

    Thanks so much for this post. One of my best friends has been suffering chronic pain for months, and sometimes it’s hard for me to know what to say. Thanks for the perspective 🙂 Thanks for stopping by my blog last week, I appreciated your comment 🙂
    .-= Emily´s last blog ..A Lifetime Learner =-.

  5. I also have an invisible chronic illness and really appreciate this post. Thank you!
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