My first instinct when I hear that someone is sick or bereaved is to head to the kitchen. I can’t think of anything more comforting than a homemade pot of soup or a home cooked meal. I thought everyone must appreciate being thought of in this caring way until I spoke with a neighbor. Her husband had cancer and during the period of his surgery, treatment, and recovery, she just wanted to be left alone. She didn’t want a phone call, company, or a meal. She preferred to handle things all by herself.
This surprised me. One of the biggest complaints I hear from individuals who are sick or bereaved is a feeling of isolation following an illness or death. When dealing with loss and difficult times, individuals often report that they don’t get enough support and feel all alone. They would welcome a visit or a meal; solace by way of companionship and care is what they seek.
But the conversation with my neighbor helped me learn an important lesson; everyone not only handles difficult times differently, they have their own preferences when it comes to support and comfort. Some people want their friends, loved ones, colleagues, and neighbors to reach out and demonstrate their concern and care. Yet there are other people who are very private and just want to handle things completely on their own.
Knowing that not everyone wants our support, how do we best proceed when we hear news of an illness or death?
Communication is your best strategy. Send a card if that’s what you would normally do. Make a connection, whether by phone or email. Ask if they would like a visit, a meal, or some help with transportation. Provide the options from your list of what’s comfortable for you.
If someone tells you they are just fine and they don’t need a thing, listen. They’re not sending a message that they want some persuasion before accepting your support. Recognize that they want to handle their own affairs and the best way to do that is to honor their privacy.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.
Image: Flickr Creative Commons / James Cridland