Maybe it's just because we know so many people, and I used to supervise over 100 employees so I knew everything about them and their extended family and friends, but it always seems like there is someone who we know who is going through a rough time. So when I picked up this book about how to be a good friend it really hit home that sometimes we could be a bit more understanding. I mean we all try and do the best that we can during these times, but sometimes we forget that an ill person might react differently than we would in their situation.
The author of this book had cancer and was fascinated by the disconnect between how people treat sick people and how sick people wish to be treated. While waiting for her own cancer treatment she used the waiting room time wisely by asking others there how their friends and family treated them. She says that most of us know how to be a friend in good times, but when a pal is either physically or mentally hurt and your role is no longer easy or obvious, that you have to find new ways to be together - illness is a friendship’s proving ground. It’s not enough to be a good-hearted person if you’re oblivious to the pain in someone’s eyes.
Don’t be surprised if the person wants to remain alone and conserve their strength and protect themselves from others high anxiety about them possibly dying. Real friends understand when you can’t deal with them because you’re dealing with your pain. Bear in mind the person oversharing details is because that might be their total reality at the moment.
What can I do rather than can I help is more authentic. Or if you know the person well enough - just do. Some patients have a hard time ordering someone else around or having the energy to even come up with something.
Advice can be dangerous - unsolicited advice - infuriating.
The bottom line is just show up. More important than a gift, just showing up when it matters and not making a grand entrance or expecting praise is number one. As this author says "We remember people who just came."
I would recommend everyone to read this book. If you aren't dealing with anyone who is ill at the moment, unfortunately, it will happen at some point, and this book will guide you to be the best friend that you can be during the stressful time.
Source: Excerpts from "How to be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick" by Letty Cottin Pogrebin