Many people write me, asking about how to respond to someone who is diagnosed with a serious illness. People often want very badly to say or do the "right" thing. So much so, that they often feel overwhelmed, and ultimately, end up saying the "wrong" thing, or nothing at all.
Dr Dolan Reports:
People are often timid or uncomfortable when others are ill, but that never helps anyone. When someone you care about is fragile, that is the time to show your strength! So be brave and offer kindness. Take on the challenge of being the best version of yourself. Even if you are in another country, on the opposite side of the earth, you can tell someone that you are right there with them. Trust me, it helps.
Now, onto the three most important steps to helping a person in a health crisis...
STEP ONE: Validate.
Always start out by getting right in there and feeling some emotions with the person in the health crisis. In the very beginning especially, hold them, cry with them, show them that you feel the heaviness of their illness. They will see that they do not have to hold all the weight on their own weary shoulders. It takes a strong person to be vulnerable with others, so show a lot of respect and honor in this process. It will be good for them, and for you.
Now, it must be said: One of the worst things you can tell someone who is diagnosed with serious illness is, "I don't know what to say." When you say the words "I don't know what to say" it creates a sense of detachment between you and the person dealing with illness. A healthy person can walk away and have a regular everyday life, just as usual. Whereas, the ill person has to live with the repercussions of illness every single second of their lives. This usually feels very isolating. The phrase 'I don't know what to say,' is another way of saying, 'You're on your own.'
All that you have to say is something comforting to make them feel connected. Here are some suggestions: I care; I am with you; you are in my thoughts every day; I will help you any way that I can; we are in this together. Most importantly, never be afraid to say I love you.
STEP TWO: Uplift.
Once it is established that you understand the weight of the burden, try to keep the subject light and the words in the positive. For example, instead of saying something like "You won't die," you could say "You will live a long life." Put that positive energy out there -- but only after you have validated the ill person! If you jump straight into positive statements without first validating their fear and pain, you may come across as patronizing. Your loved one needs to see that you have invested your own emotions and actually understood the enormity of their pain already. This way, the ill person can trust you and follow you into the warm light of hope.
The most important thing that you can do is so simple and costs no money at all. ...Just help people to be happy! That's it. Simple. When people are ill, they sometimes need a little help being happy. If a person can have moments of happiness peak through the storm of illness, it makes everything easier. Absolutely everything.
So, tell some jokes -dirty jokes even! Reminisce about old times, and most importantly, plan for a long, healthy and happy life together! This goes for those of us who are ill and for those of us who are not. Laughter by the way, also creates physical movement (mild exercise) in the body, which can strengthen the heart and trigger the lymphatic system too! This is another important part of optimizing health... So what do ya say? Got any good jokes?
STEP THREE: Give.
Give something tangible! Words are wonderful. But when you give a hand-written card, or flowers perhaps, you are showing that you are willing to take extra steps to show your support. Don't think that it goes unnoticed with most people. We need reminders of love, especially when we are dealing with the normal depression and anxiety that comes with a health crisis. Chances are likely that your ill loved one will be strained with the burdens of medical bills and other financial stresses. Being ill is the cause for countless bankruptcies, foreclosures, evictions, homelessness etc. If you are able to, help out financially somehow. If you can do it, don't offer loans -offer gifts. A loan will add pressure to pay another bill collector (you) and it could hurt as much as it helps. If you can do it, just take a breath and give a check. If they are too uncomfortable accepting it, then send it in a card and call it an early birthday gift. You can also buy some groceries, give a gift card, or offer to clean their house.
Remember to stick around! Too often, people who are ill, watch their friends and family members drift away. This usually comes from the fact that people do not know what to say or do when a loved one is in a health crisis. Well, now we have the simple recipe that can be altered and applied to just about anyone! Repeat these steps often. Your loved one will have lots of highs and lows with their physical and emotional health along this tumultuous journey.
So it goes like this, in this order: Validate. Uplift. Give. Repeat.
Dr Franky Dolan
~Thank you for supporting the magic!