This is a question which keeps popping up. How do you talk to someone in my position, or an analogous one? Someone with a fatal illness, someone approaching or already within the end stages. I’ll say more on this down the line, but here’s a few simple tips based on my experiences.
- Acknowledge what we’re saying. Changing the subject or acting like it isn’t real doesn’t help
- Don’t minimize. We really do have a pretty good handle on what’s going on. What may look like emotional drama to you is the hard reality of everyday life for us.
- Don’t project your own fears. Remember that you are losing a friend, but we are losing everyone we have ever known or loved.
- Don’t go into problem solving mode. If we want advice, we’ll ask for it. Chances are good we or our caregivers have thought exhaustively about our choices and alternatives.
- Don’t compare. Whatever we’re dealing with, whatever is killing us, that is overwhelmingly unique to our personal experience.
The obvious caveat is that if we ask you something specific, run with it. The patient gets to make or break these guidelines at their own discretion. Likewise if your relationship has a specific dimension, one tip or another may not apply. I want my doctor to problem solve. When I’m talking to another cancer patient, we compare constantly. But these are a good starting point.