6 Phrases People Facing Serious Illnesses Would Rather Hear You Say


When living with a serious illness, you become accustomed to hearing phrases from the uninformed bystander — or even your own family. While these phrases may come with good intent, many are actually quite distasteful for the circumstances we’re facing. Phrases like “Everything will be OK,” “I know what you’re going through,” and “God only gives us what we can handle,” can be somewhat offensive or even demean what we’re facing. Here’s a compilation of appropriate affirmations someone facing a serious illness would rather hear you say.

1. “I Googled your illness.”

A frequent issue we run into is the lack of understanding surrounding our diseases, even by close family and friends. But simply stating you took the time to research an ailment confirms you truly care about your loved one’s condition. Taking this small glimpse into the symptoms they may be experiencing will help you understand what they endure daily. This easy task will also reveal a person’s likely prognosis, which in turn will help the bystander rule out inappropriate remarks such as, “Get well soon” if in fact the patient will not.

2. “I have no idea what you are going through.”

It’s human nature to attempt to relate to those around you; however, when someone is experiencing a trauma you’ve never encountered, expressing, “I know what you’re going through” is not appropriate. The reality is, you have no idea what it is like to slowly watch your body deteriorate unless you’re personally experiencing it. A person with a serious illness often faces unimaginable pain and mental turmoil as a consequence of his or her disease — this is not something you can understand because you’ve experienced, say, the stomach flu.

3. “Sometimes it does feel like God gives us more than we can handle.”

The truth is, whether you’re religious or not, expressing to someone that their situation will never be more than they can handle is distressing. Illness seizes your life and changes everything you knew about yourself. On a daily basis it can feel as though the world is collapsing around you; it most certainly feels at times like it’s more than we can handle. While it’s a nice sentiment to point out that we’re tenacious individuals who can handle what life throws at us, it’s more comforting to us when you acknowledge the times we feel overwhelmed and lost.

4. “I approve of whatever treatment option you choose for yourself.”

Illness are tough enough without input on how we choose to handle them. While many individuals mean well with their herbal remedies, supplements or special diet plans, we must decide for ourselves how to handle our situations. If we decide to use Western medicine to treat our illness, please respect that choice and recognize that we know our bodies best. Attempting to persuade us that we’ve made a misinformed choice or taken the easy way out doesn’t generate a positive feeling for us. Remember to consider that our illnesses are complex, and while a diet may have worked for your issues, it may not help ours.

5. “I know you look good, but I accept that you’re feeling beyond what I can see.”

The most common phrase I receive is, “But you look so good!” But many of us face what are known as “invisible illnesses.” This means that while we may look healthy on the outside, our bodies are raging war just beneath the surface. Acknowledging that we look good seems like a positive affirmation, but it can also belittle what we’re facing, especially when “You must be feeling better” follows. Disease is like an iceberg; you can truly only see the tip. What’s below the surface is extraordinarily large. Please recognize that while we look like healthy individuals, there may be much hardship beyond what you observe.

6. “I recognize that everything might not turn out OK.”

There’s a significant difference between being pessimistic and accepting the reality of one’s situation. All of us living with an illness have had to accept our prognosis. For me, living in a sugarcoated bliss doesn’t benefit me in the long run. This attitude doesn’t mean we’re pessimistic. It means we’re realistically facing our trials. When someone in our life is unrealistically positive, speaking of cures to disease which have none, it can feel quite degrading. In a way, this frame of mind expresses that our trial is not as serious as we believed, that we’re making up the severity of our situation. Many diseases do lead to death, and while conveying to someone, “Everything will be OK” is a lovely thought, truth is, it might not turn out that way. Please remind yourself to accept the reality of someone’s illness. This affirmation will not only assist that person’s confidence but will also create a more comforting environment of acceptance for the bystanders if things do take a turn for the worst.

This post originally appeared on The Day in the Life of a Tube Fed Wife.

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