News / Health

Book Details How to React When Friends Fall Ill

Being seriously ill is usually a frightening experience, but it can be even more challenging when friends and family are unsure of how to support a loved one. (File Photo)
Being seriously ill is usually a frightening experience, but it can be even more challenging when friends and family are unsure of how to support a loved one. (File Photo)
Adam Phillips
A few years ago, after Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a founding editor of Ms. magazine, was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was struck by how difficult it was for some of her friends to talk about her illness in frank and supportive ways.

She began asking other cancer patients how their friendships had changed since their diagnoses, and a timely book idea was born. She titled it “How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick.”

“It is really about how to relate to somebody who is in extremis, who is suffering, who makes you feel awkward because you have to face your own vulnerability and your own mortality and people are not good at it naturally," Pogrebin said. "It does not come naturally so they really pause, they blunder, they cannot find the right words.”
x

Pogrebin found that fear is at the bottom of many communications problems. Some people feel so uncomfortable in the presence of a sick person they do not want to see him or her at all.  

Rhonda Waithe says that is how her brother felt when her son Jody was born with a grave disease and could not leave the hospital for nearly a year.  

“He was like ‘I do not know how to act. I would not know how to be around these people,’" Waithe said. "And I would say to him ‘Just be yourself.'  Because this is what they want, for you to just be you.”

Pogrebin also that found some people try a little too hard to be “nice.”     

“And that there is really a whole misperception of what it is to be nice to a sick person," she said. "Sometimes the nicest thing you can do is simply treat them normally. The luxury of the normal. It is the miracle of the ordinary that I sought. I did not want to feel like ‘Cancer Girl.’”  

Pogrebin says be mindful of what might actually help the loved one feel better, not what you think the “proper” thing to say or do is.        

“It is very tempting to feel good about yourself when you are in a tough situation like that. ‘I called when I heard. I did the right thing.’ ‘I sent a bouquet of flowers. I did the right thing.’ I said, ‘you will get past this’ or ‘I am sure it is going to be OK.’  All those bromides we've heard people say for a million years," she said. "But you do not know on the other end if that is what is really needed, and if that is what is really wanted.”    

Often, what is needed is practical hands-on help. That's what Nicole Brown craved when her late father became bedridden.
Cancer survivor and veteran journalist Letty Cottin Pogrebin is the author of "How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick." (Photo by Mike Lovett)Cancer survivor and veteran journalist Letty Cottin Pogrebin is the author of "How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick." (Photo by Mike Lovett)
x
Cancer survivor and veteran journalist Letty Cottin Pogrebin is the author of "How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick." (Photo by Mike Lovett)
Cancer survivor and veteran journalist Letty Cottin Pogrebin is the author of "How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick." (Photo by Mike Lovett)
   
“We needed people to actually come and help us, be there for us," Brown said. "Bring some food. Help give him a bath.”   

Pogrebin adds that simple courtesy often is the best policy.
 
“I know somebody told me that her friend said 'It is too cold in here' and went rummaging in her drawers for a sweater for her. Which is a very nice impulse," she said. "But she did not want her friends in her drawers. So sometimes an act of kindness can be an act of invasion.”  

Pogrebin says to let the loved one take the lead.
 
“If you are the friend, ask the sick person ‘What do you really want us to do during this period? Do you want me to offer or just come and take the initiative?'" she said. "'I will take the advice you give me right now and I will run with it for the rest of the period of time that we are in this together.’ It is the simple Golden Rule, when you get down to it.”

You May Like

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that was eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports on how one band is bringing Yiddish tango to Los Angeles.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid