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

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Comment by Robbie Miller Kaplan on October 26, 2012 at 11:21am

Victoria; thanks so much for your thoughts and ideas!

Comment by Vicki on October 26, 2012 at 11:15am

You know Robbie, it's so true when that happens when someone gets sick. I laughed to myself a bit when I read this post, and also when you ask the sick person what do you need done, they sem to always say no I'm fine or I have a can of soup so I'll be okay. My mom always say's ok, well i'm going to the veggie market and i'm going to get some things, to make homade soup for you. Sometimes people need not just homade fresh soup, but it's also truly the thought that counts, that makes people's spirit better. Which in turn, (sometimes) they get better physically as well. So sometimes we don't need to ask, JUST DO! Whether it's helping to clean there house, cooking for them, or helping to take care of their family. So I really appreciated your post Robbie, thank you for bringing out the points you talked about. Also these things can also apply to when someone looses someone close to them in death.

I hope this will give people ideas to what we can do when someone gets sick, or someone we know looses someone in death...

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