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What Not to Say to Someone Who is Sick

Image by Thomas Wolter from Pixabay

Recently I had a health scare that rattled me a bit. I lost my hearing for 2 weeks, and because I have Meniere’s disease, my health team was alarmed. Their alarm was contagious, and I started down the “what-if” road. That road leads to more suffering.

Eventually I reached out to a few friends and shared with them what was going on. Those conversations were doubly hard since they had to shout in to my one working ear. The other one was useless. Word spread, and friends and acquaintances gave me lots of love and support. However, a few also showed me what NOT to say. It forced me to look at how I respond to others. What well-meaning words do I say which maybe aren’t all that helpful? Is my comforting actually making things worse?

Here are a few things people told me that perhaps could have been left unsaid:

“ I had a friend who had a similar thing happen. Her hearing never came back.” This scared me more.

“I know what you are going through. I had a stomach thing last year that really derailed me.” I believe this person was trying to show empathy, but then he went on and talked about himself the rest of the conversation.

“Don’t worry about it. Worry makes it worse.” I know this is true but telling someone not to worry doesn’t help them stop worrying.

Another thing that didn’t help was questioning my decision not to keep going back to the doctor or urgent care after I had already been to the doctor twice, was on medication, and had a timely follow-up appointment.

Here is what helped:

“I am sorry you are going through this. Is there anything I can do to help.”


Here are 3 more things I learned:

If someone else is suffering, even if the source of their suffering is relatively minor, I can be a compassionate listener, even if I am deaf. Problems shared are best carried together. I hope I never ever am tempted to say, “You think you have problems.”  This doesn’t help; compassion does.

I can share my problems with people who have bigger problems. I didn’t want to tell a close relative about my hearing because she has cancer and is on chemo. However, she doesn’t need my protection; she needs me to be real.

We all do the best we can. If someone doesn’t respond to your needs the way you want them to, that’s just life. We can love each other as we are, without expectations.

My hearing is coming back and although I may end up with hearing aids, that seems much more attractive than the alternative. I am grateful for the lessons this has taught me.

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