People often are at a loss for words when someone they care about has a serious illness, has a miscarriage, or a chronic condition, like fibromyalgia. Well-meaning coworkers may tell a person with a serious illness or loss, “Everything happens for a reason.” This type of comment is not usually helpful to someone with said illness. It implies that there is a reason the person is suffering or that they deserved their illness/pain.
What is helpful then?
Emily McDowell, a cancer survivor herself, has created empathy cards for people with serious illnesses. Her cards spell out humorous messages to friends or family with illnesses like cancer. Simply reading the card sayings is a quick What To Say (and Not To Say) primer.
Emily writes about the tendency for people to avoid those with serious illnesses because they don’t know what to say. Unfortunately, this often makes the person with the illness or loss feel even more isolated.Taking the time to think about what may be helpful and then reaching out to your coworker, family member or friend can be a great help to someone with a serious illness.
It may be helpful to put yourself in the other person’s shoes when you think of what you want to say. Think about what you want from friends and coworkers when you are ill. If you are running a fever and having gastrointestinal angst from the flu, do you want someone to say to you, “Everything happens for a reason.” Or, “Have you tried yoga for that?” Probably not. How about if someone tells you, “I’m sorry you are not felling well. Would you like me to pick up anything for you from the store/take out your trash/cover your projects at work while you are ill?” The latter statements may be more appreciated.
Aside from the empathy cards and offers of help, one of the most helpful things you can do for someone with a serious loss of illness may be the most difficult thing for many people: Just being there. Listening. Caring. Sharing a humorous story about your day. Letting the person be, however they feel without trying to fix them: cranky, low energy, easily fatigued. And lastly, not taking it personally if the person with the illness or loss is too tired to talk or enjoy your company and wants to rest.
Check out Emily’s Empathy Cards here.
What’s Emily’s Story?
Emily McDowell, former advertising art director, writer and creative director, started her greeting card business on a whim in 2013. She put a Valentines Day card on Etsy and from there her work “went viral,” according to her website. Emily tells her own story far better than I, however so check out her story here.
To view and purchase cards from Emily, click here.