Cliches don’t always work during illness
‘Stay positive!’ Believe it or not, this can actually make a really sick person feel cranky and like a failure if they just haven’t been able to achieve this remarkable goal in the face of enormous adversity. It’s not that it isn’t a great goal, but it does tend to be a throw away line now whenever life gets hard. And staying positive can mean an additional burden of expectation is that you will suffer through your illness without demonstrating the grief and sorrow of it all.
Along the same lines is ‘Stay strong.’ This was said to my father after he had been diagnosed with inoperable end stage lung cancer. He looked at the person who said it and I could see it was the worst thing to have been said. Suddenly he couldn’t express any of his pain, he couldn’t show that he was devastated, frightened and needing to be supported. So I saw him pull it all together, hold it in, be a man and he stayed strong…..until that person left.
It wasn’t that I knew especially well what to say either at the time, I didn’t. We all say things at times that just come out because we don’t know what else to say, but I realised then that it can make a huge difference to the person who is sick.
Perspective of the sufferer throughout illness
People are always well-meaning and caring when they ask about your illness. But if you are really over it and just want life to feel more normal (before you got sick), how do you keep your illness conversation out of the limelight?
This can be done easily by you being the instigator of the topic of conversation, keeping the focus on other normal aspects of your life. It may well put other people at ease in the process because not everyone can say just the right thing to a person suffering on the cancer journey, or any other life threatening disease pathway.
If you are still engaged in your interests and hobbies in some way, use them as your decoy.
Better still, people love talking about themselves, they can’t help it, so there is the perfect conversation remedy if you really do not want to talk about your illness.
Talking to the person who is ill.
If you are a little uncomfortable talking to someone who has a life threatening illness, talk about the moment, not the journey. Asking ‘How’s everything going?’ means you might get a full description of the treatments, the disappointments, the results of the last round of chemo, the trip to hospital in the middle of the night because of pain and vomiting, even the positive results of the last scan and what it means. You can show you care by asking instead: ‘How are you today?’
If you can’t visit, send a card or a text with a simple message: ‘I’m thinking of you, I love you.’ So simple but so supportive. Suddenly they do not feel so alone.
Keep away from cliches, say what you feel with honesty.
Don’t ignore sick people
You may not know quite what to say, but avoiding and ignoring is worse. Loneliness is a terrible aspect of a sick person’s journey, and although I’m guilty of not finding the time as much as anyone, being present now and then, calling and texting breaks up a long day for them. Talk about what you are doing, anything interesting that can make them feel a part of your life.
Illness is a part of the human experience which needs to be shared, with patience and awareness. But there needs to be balance in the everyday conversations so that the illness does not weigh heavily on the scales, with everything else thrown into a pile of less importance. This will really help with the mental health of everyone involved, and provide the support and caring that any one of us would appreciate if we were faced with significant illness.