Photo: Bruce Feiler
Three years ago, the writer Bruce Feiler learned that he had bone cancer. Over the following nine months, he underwent intensive chemotherapy and had a 15 hour surgery to reconstruct his left leg.
Bruce is OK now and has a new book out called “Council of Dads” (descriptions of several friends he had asked to look out for his twin girls if he died).
When he was sick, though–and he was really sick–he learned firsthand what you should and shouldn’t say to people who are really sick.
Bruce just wrote them up in the New York Times. Here’s the Cliff Notes version with our summary explanations (which are harsher than Bruce’s):
1. WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP? Why shouldn’t you say that? Because the sick person doesn’t want to ask a favour–it makes them feel pathetic and obligated to you. Instead of asking what you can do, just do something.
2. MY THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS ARE WITH YOU. Why shouldn’t you say that? Because usually it’s a bunch of crap.
3. DID YOU TRY THAT MANGO COLONIC I RECOMMENDED? Why shouldn’t you recommend all sorts of your favourite homeopathic remedies? Because you’re not a doctor, and you have no idea what you’re talking about.
4. EVERYTHING WILL BE O.K. Why shouldn’t you say that? Because you have no idea what you’re talking about.
5. HOW ARE WE TODAY? Why shouldn’t you say that? Because it’s infantilizing. The person is sick, not three years old.
6. YOU LOOK GREAT. Why shouldn’t you say that? Because it’s bullshit.
And here are a few things you CAN do and say:
1. DON’T WRITE ME BACK. (Who needs another obligation?)
2. I SHOULD BE GOING NOW. (It’s tiring being sick and trying to be peppy when people come visit).
3. WOULD YOU LIKE SOME GOSSIP? (Duh, yes!).
4. I LOVE YOU.
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