How To Be a Friend To a Friends Who’s Sick

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Everyone knows someone who’s sick or suffering. Yet when a friend or relative is under duress many of us feel uncertain about how to cope. Now, in a warm and sympathetic book inspired by her own experiences, a renowned author and journalist offers new insights and concrete advice on how to relate to, and help, our sick friends. Throughout her recent bout with breast cancer, Letty Cottin Pogrebin became fascinated by her friends’ and family’s diverse reactions to her and her illness: how awkwardly some of them behaved; how some misspoke or misinterpreted her needs; and how wonderful it was when people read her right. She began talking to her fellow patients and dozens of other veterans of serious illness, seeking to discover what sick people wished their friends knew about how best to comfort, help, and even simply talk to them.

Pogrebin has distilled their collective stories and opinions into this wide-ranging compendium of pragmatic guidance and usable wisdom. Her advice is always infused with sensitivity, warmth, and humor. It is embedded in candid stories from her own and others’ journeys, and their sometimes imperfect interactions with well-meaning friends. How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick is an invaluable guidebook for anyone hoping to rise to the challenges of this most important and demanding passage of friendship.

What’s the secret to more satisfying visits with a long-term housebound friend? The author says that it lies in advanced planning and creative activities. Here are 10 ways that Pogrebin recommends to make your time together more relaxed and rewarding:

  1. Rehearse the visit in your mind. Don’t count on spontaneity to get the conversation going. Pick three or four subjects in advance that might stimulate the conversation. Also bring along an item of interest – a CD, a newspaper clipping, a new app.
  2. Watch a movie or TV show together and talk about it with them in detail. Ask question about what they think of the script, direction, casting and more. Before you leave, ask your friend what movie they would like you to bring on your next visit.
  3. Convene a book group composed of the two of you or add a few other friends to the mix. Be sensitive to the limits of patient’s concentration and interests – don’t choose War and Peace or a two-volume biography of Emma Goldman if Freakonomics or a breezy novel is as much as your sick friend can handle.
  4. Bring a jigsaw puzzle and offer to do it with them. If the two of you don’t finish it by the end of your visit, encourage your friend to continue without you. Before buying, check the puzzle box for the number of pieces it contains: 300-piece puzzles allow for more immediate gratification than 1000-piece puzzles which can be daunting.
  5. Play checkers or chess and keep score. If your friend is enthusiastic about either game, buy them a unique looking set that will always remind them of how much you care about them.
  6. Use poker chips when you play cards. They feel good and add gravitas.
  7. Play one of the “With Friends” games. Try Words with Friends for starters.
  8. Create a Trifecta of game classics – Scrabble, Monopoly and Battleship could together comprise a tournament that lasts for months. Trivial Pursuit, Bananagrams and Uno could be another. Whoever wins the first three games gets to choose the next three.
  9. Ask other friends of the patient to send artifacts – photos of themselves, mementos of shared events, personal anecdotes, written messages – and collect everything in a scrapbook or dedicated box. Go through the stuff with the patient, and encourage them to share whatever thoughts each of them evokes.
  10. Combine forces with other friends to create different codres of visitors. Stagger your visits. Coordinate who comes when and which group brings what. With each constellation of visitors, the chemistry of each visit will change, providing a variety of stimuli to the patient.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin is an award-winning journalist, widely published opinion writer, acclaimed public speaker, admired political activist, and author of several nonfiction bestsellers, including Growing Up Free, Getting Over Getting Older, and Deborah, Golda, and Me. Her last book was a novel, Three Daughters. She lives in New York.

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