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.
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.
Now 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.
Pogrebin, a veteran feminist, author, and cofounder (with Gloria Steinem) of Ms. magazine, uses her experience with breast cancer she was diagnosed in September 2009 at age 70 and nearly 80 interviews with friends and patients to craft this bluntly practical and gently humorous guide to the dos and don ts of caring for the ill. The list of tips is formidably long, and includes plenty of helpful advice: Don t ask how someone is feeling, ask what they re feeling; never start a sentence with Oh my God! ; and be sure to say things like, Tell me how I can help, and I m bringing dinner or ice cream, laughter, or pot (to which she gives the grand prize for Most Restorative Gift ). There are also accounts of patients themselves, like writer Nora Ephron, who surprisingly chose to keep her fatal illness a secret from friends. But it s the bravery and wisdom Pogrebin (Three Daughters) brought to her own battle that lifts this guide from a mere list of sickroom rules to invaluable lessons for sickness and health. Her cancer, she writes, taught me the blessings of silence and that there are times when the kindest thing you can do for the ill is to confer upon them the honor of the ordinary.