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What to say and do when a loved one is sick

Trying to find words of comfort is a natural response, yet "I don't know what to say" is what we often feel and/or say when a friend or family member has received a serious medical diagnosis.

The following is written in the hopes of providing you with some guidelines when you are faced with this type of situation.

First, don't make their news all about you. For example, if your friend tells you they just found out they have multiple sclerosis (MS), don't immediately say "I know all about that because my mom has MS." While you also went through a very difficult experience, we cannot really know how other people feel.

If you have had a similar experience, let your loved one know how sorry you are that they have to go through this. It is important to let your loved one know that you support them but, remember; their experience with their illness is unique and personal.  

Expect that that you may feel uncomfortable. Sometimes people want to back away from bad news. Try not to shut down and say nothing.

If you want to offer help, it's generally better to offer to do something specific. Whether that's picking up children, grocery shopping, cleaning the house, bringing over meals or any one of the thousands of things we do every day that are thrown into chaos when dealing with an illness.

If you truly want to help, plan what you will do and when you will do it, rather than ask your loved one to call you if they need anything — because more often than not, they won't call due to being overwhelmed with their situation.  

Be kind, be gentle and know that it's OK that you don't have all the answers. Your loved one doesn't expect you to. You know your loved one best and know what is likely to bring comfort. If they want to cry, sit down and cry with them. If they want to laugh, laugh with them.   

Often, when there is a long-term health issue friends and family start to disappear just when they are needed the most. Make a decision now to be there for your loved one as they navigate through this new journey.   

Sometimes just being there is the most important thing you can do.


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