What Not to Say to a Sick Friend

Your friend is sick? What to say can be truly stressful. You worry about whether acknowledging and bringing up their illness will remind them that they are sick or upset them. When people are sick, they don't forget. But saying something that is insensitive or invalidating can make it worse. Read below for some simple suggestions on what not to say to a sick loved one.

These well-meaning comments make a bad situation worse.

By Didi Gluck

Illustration of a woman pushing her sick friend in a wheelchair

Brian Rea

“Have You Thought of Going to Mexico for Coffee Enemas?”

You may find it comforting to research therapies for your friend’s illness, but questioning her chosen course of treatment is one of the most undermining things you can do, says Ginny Callaway, the author ofA Friend in Grief: Simple Ways to Help ($11,amazon.com).

“My Aunt Hilda Had That, and…”

Everyone has different variables, says psychotherapist Anna Rhodes—age, medical history, lifestyle: “Just because someone else has the same disease doesn’t mean she will have the same experience.”

“Any of Us Could Get Hit by a Bus Tomorrow”

Says writer Kris Carr, who is living with cancer and who produced the documentary Crazy Sexy Cancer,“Every time someone said this after my diagnosis, I felt like saying, ‘Yeah, but you probably won’t. And you also don’t have cancer, pal.’ ”

“How Long Do You Have?”

“This is number one on the offensive list,” says Carr. A better question: “How do you feel today?” This lets the person talk about the here and now rather than the potentially scary future.

“You Need to Tell the Kids”

No therapist worth her salt would advocate lying to children about an illness, especially once symptoms are visible. But it’s the sole domain of the sick person and her spouse, if she has one, to decide whom she tells and when.

“You Have to Be Positive”

“After surgeon Bernie Siegel wrote Love, Medicine, and Miracles, about the power of positive thinking vis-à-vis health,” says Rhodes, “people kept telling me they thought they were going to die because they had negative thoughts.” The reality is that some people just get sick.

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