Don’t tell me I look good when I’m sick and miserable
“He…did not battle his illness bravely. Nor was he courageous in the face of death,” read the bold, opening paragraph of the obituary for the British journalist. John Diamond, a man almost as famous for his ten-year marriage to celebrity Nigella Lawson as the long and public battle with throat cancer that he lost in March 2001.
It was a fitting tribute. Diamond adamantly refused to fight his battle with cancer “bravely” and chose instead to write about his illness, in a raw and unforgiving fashion, in a weekly column for The Times newspaper in London.
Honesty was his only policy, as the quote below the fold reveals.
I despise the set of warlike metaphors that so many apply to cancer. My antipathy has nothing to do with pacifism and everything to do with a hatred for the sort of morality which says that only those who fight hard against their cancer survive it or deserve to survive it - the corollary being that those who lose the fight deserved to do so.
And so it continued throughout the length of his five year illness, ending with an incredibly poignant, final column that everyone must make time to read.
Diamond would have found a kindred soul in Bruce Feiler, a bone cancer survivor, who’s complied an eight-point list for The New York Times on the things that you should and should not say to people who are seriously sick. It’s so good it’s worth sticking on the fridge.
The biggest crime of all, says Feiler, is telling someone that they “look great”. Ditto asking, “What can I do to help?” and making a commitment to “pray for them”.
Offering information on the latest “miracle cure” and demanding constant wellbeing updates are pretty terrible too.
The best visitor brings gossip and titbits from life “outside” the doom and gloom.
Knowing when to say “we should go now” is a massive advantage as well as giving the sick person the opportunity just be “down in the dumps”, when they want to be.
Real emotion is the biggest winner of the day.
Say things like: “I’m sorry you have to go through this”, “I hate to see you suffer”, or “you mean a lot to me”.
The fact that so few of us do this makes it even more meaningful, Fieler says.
Great advice, right? But just like any great advice, it’s also terrifically hard to put into practice.
Seeing someone you love, sick in hospital, is a huge shock to the system. The tubes, the backless gowns, the fluoro lights that cast a wan light on even the best complexion. Even the plastic cups of warm water throw a right angle on your emotions. Little wonder that we clutch teddy bears and bunches of average flowers, and reach for the nearest available cliché.
But what do we, the people on the outside, in robust health, have to worry about?
Basically we’re scared because we can’t fix it, says Annie Cantwell-Bartl, a, Honorary Fellow at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital. Our need to “make it better” for the people we love drives our bad, albeit well-meaning behaviours.
Instead of listening and giving our loved ones space, we panic and prattle off old wives’ tales and mollycoddling of the worst kind.
Cantwell-Bartl says we need to remember that sickness, like most other experiences in life, is personal. Recognise that what the person who is healing has needs that can change on a daily basis.
“Some people need to shut down [in their illness] but more commonly they are bursting to share how they are feeling with someone who can bear listening to it,” says Cantwell-Bartl.
According to Cantwell-Bartl the key is to be consistent and get to know the needs of the person who is healing.
Understand when they want to forget their illness, and just get out in the garden, or go for a cup of tea. And learn the importance of letting them vent their fears and frustrations, without saying anything at all.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…