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How Do Real Friends Respond to a Serious Illness? (7 Comforting Things to Say)

By Randall Hartman September 09, 2016 Lifestyle

My friends are getting sick at an alarming rate. No doubt it goes with the aging process. We all get our share of aches and pains but some illnesses are a matter of life and death.

When your friend is diagnosed with a serious illness, what’s the best way to respond?

It’s tricky. You want to be helpful and encouraging. But in times of serious illness the odds of saying or doing something that will be hurtful instead of helpful are pretty high. The emotions of your sick friend are running high. It’s easy for them to be extra sensitive to how people are responding to their situation. Caution is in order.

The value of true friendship cannot be exaggerated. We must do everything possible to maintain friendship with those closest to us. On my own website I’ve written several articles about the importance of friendship. For example, I encourage you to check out Friends: The Ultimate Source of Energy. 

Here are 7 ways real friends can respond during times of serious illness.

Real Friends Don’t Say, “I Know How You Feel”

This might be the mistake we make most often. It’s a natural thing to say when we want to bring encouragement. But it is not the right thing to say. Someone who faces a dangerous illness knows you have no real idea how they are feeling. It’s more helpful to admit you DON’T know how they feel.

Real Friends Give Their Sick Friends Some Space

It’s so tempting to make the mistake of crowding a friend who is struggling with health issues. You really care and that means you want to know details. With the best of motives, you become an armchair medic who critiques what their doctor tells them. But in times of serious illness your friend needs some space. Give them time to process what is happening to them.

Real Friends Don’t Say, “You Look Good”

I’ve stood beside someone in a hospital bed when a friend walked up and announced, “You look good.” No. They looked like crap. And they know it. To tell them they look good when it’s obviously not true creates alarm instead of calm. If it’s not true, don’t say it.

Real Friends Recognize the Importance of Being Available

Even though it’s important to back off, it’s also critical to let your friend know you are available for them. Make it clear you will walk with them as close as they want. Remind them they have your phone number. Offer to call them on a certain schedule to check up on them. A real friend is always available.

Real Friends Don’t Give Their Sick Friend and Aunt’s Magic Cure

We all know of someone who had a certain illness and tried a whacky treatment seeking a cure. When your friend gets ill please don’t tell them about the weird treatments you’ve read about which will cure them. During the dark days of illness people become desperate. Your well-intended comment could send them on a plane to South America to search for the tail of an albino newt.

Real Friends Avoid Telling Their Sick Friend about Someone Else You Had the Same Illness

I’m surprised at how often I’ve heard people say to their friend in the hospital, “My cousin had the same thing wrong with him.” The natural question is to ask how the person with the same illness is doing. Too often the answer is that they are no longer alive. Avoid offering up this possibility.

Real Friends Don’t Tell Their Friend They Will Be Praying for Them

The words “I’ll pray for you” don’t mean much. Too often it’s a quick response from a friend that really means they didn’t know what else to say. If you are religious, do this instead: pray for your friend right there when you are with them. Go ahead. One prayer in that moment will mean more than 1,000 promised prayers prayed at some other time and place.

It’s tough to have friends suffer with serious illnesses. But being a real friend means that you will walk the journey with them.

How have you been a real friend to someone with a serious illness? Were there any conversations that you had with them which were particularly meaningful and helpful? What advice would you give to a woman in our community who wants to talk with a friend with a serious illness?

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The Author

Dr. Randall Hartman, D.Min., M.Div., is a Baby Boomer who writes at http://www.randallhartman.com about the ReFIRE reinvention process. After successfully serving for 30 years as a minister he uses his writing, speaking, and coaching skills to help people transition into their most vibrant and meaningful years. Sign up for Randall's newsletter to learn how to make the rest of your life the best.

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