How To Say, “I’m There for You” Without Intruding

by Ruth Folger Weiss

Interacting with a loved one who has received a less than stellar medical diagnosis is a difficult call. Your relationship behooves you to rise to the occasion-whatever that may be- and to provide all the emotional or practical bolstering that is inimitably yours. But anyone who is a good friend knows that every individual’s mode of responding to emotional support differs tremendously, and one’s sense of “being there” is another’s perception of intrusion.

So I was enormously impressed by Elizabth Bernstein’s column in today’s Wall St. Journal, “How to Support a Loved One Reeling from Cancer Diagnois”. She is evocative, insightful, and right-on in her advice, which is relevant to helping friends and loved ones through any personal travail.

“In general, experts say, you should take your lead from the person who is sick. If she wants to talk about her illness, then listen. Don’t be afraid of emotions. Being there, listening and being supportive is a powerful role,” Dr. Marissa Weiss says. “If the person feels comfortable crying in front of you, be honored, because you fulfilled a really important need.”

“It’s critical not to treat your friend just as a patient. So remember to ask about other aspects of her life, such as her children. Ask her permission before you share news of her illness with others. Don’t recommend books or treatments without first inquiring if she’d like to hear about them

“You should also ask exactly what type of help your loved one needs. You can offer to pick up groceries, provide transportation or return phone calls. And don’t be deterred if your offer of help is declined. People who are diagnosed with a major illness often don’t know what they will need at first. In addition, accepting help can be frightening for people accustomed to being independent. Keep offering help.”

“And if your friend, co-worker or family member isn’t returning calls, don’t take it personally. She may not have the energy or time to call you back. Stay in touch anyway.”

01. April 2008 by Ruth Folger Weiss
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