Finding the right words for someone who's ill
Many of us have been through illnesses that require operations, risky procedures or recurring downtime that can change our lives, even if we fully recover. Any of this makes us face our death.

Our imaginations race toward finality. No matter how elevated or sublime our thoughts become, this state of mind adds to our pain and brings despair.

How our friends talk to us as we are going through this and recovering can be a source of further pain.

I have been catheterized for clogged arteries in my heart two times in the last 10 years, once with an angioplasty and once with a stent.

For a recent angiogram to see what might be causing some new arrhythmia, I found myself in the hospital on the same day that my son was being operated on for a severely broken collarbone.

We were greeted by all kinds of comments from friends and associates that prompted these reflections on what people say to those who are ill.

I offer them as a guide to those who want to talk in a helpful way to those who are ill and also to reveal some painful aspects of our current culture.

And they may empower the ill to speak up for what we need.


Connecting with sympathy

These comments focus on the patient and what he or she needs -- sympathy, not advice.

* How are you feeling?

* Is there anything I can do to comfort you?

* I'm really sorry you have to go through this.

* I missed your friendship and warmth while you were down.

* I'm very glad to have you back.

* I want to support you through your recovery. I'll call you in a day or so.

* And later: Would you tell me the story of your illness, and what happened to you?