Hey Clay

Letter No. 1: What Do I Say to a Friend With a Terminal Disease?

Hey, Clay.

I’m sending this letter to you in the hopes that you can give me some help with a situation I am currently in. I have a very good friend that has a serious medical condition. He has been told that he may not have long to live. This friend is a real optimistic type and is fighting this battle with everything he has. My problem is that I don’t what to say because I might say the wrong thing to him. Any advice that you might give me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much for your consideration of this letter!

A Concerned Friend

Dear Concerned Friend,

I’m sorry to hear of your friend’s compromised health. I will be sure to lift him and his loved ones up in prayer. I can tell this friend means a great deal to you and that the relationship the two of you share is a tender one. I commend you for your awareness of how words have the potential to lift or crush his spirits at this point in his life. This makes you a valued friend indeed.

A few years ago, a friend was stricken with cancer. His world, and that of his immediate family and siblings, was turned upside-down not only from the disease, but the testing, chemo and radiation therapy, and their nasty side effects. In this family’s case, they knew the cancer was something they couldn’t control. So to keep the cancer from completely wreaking havoc in their lives, they chose to control the things they could—like their daily routines, how they responded to situations, and who they allowed in their lives. This helped give a sense of normalcy to their lives.

People dealing with serious health challenges tend to decrease the number of people with whom they have direct contact. They do this not so much out of rudeness or to diminish the value of the relationships; but rather to conserve their energy and focus on fighting the disease. If you’re one of the people who was formerly on the inside track and now find yourself seeing less of your friend, chances are it doesn’t mean that your relationship has become irrelevant, he may be reconciling how he feels about the state of his union.

When I was in my mid-thirties my father had esophageal cancer. He didn’t tell us until a few days before he died. At the time thoughts of why is he shutting me out, why is he pushing me away? plagued me. It wasn’t until years later that a friend suggested that perhaps my father felt was protecting me. I think she was correct.

Coping with an illness makes relationships tricky for everyone. And as long as people and feelings and egos involved, there’s a 110% chance the relationships will get messy. There’s a tendency for those of us who are close to the person with the illness to make their decisions about us.

I want you to do this.

Why are you shutting me out?

If you loved me, you wouldn’t act this way.

… the list goes on.

Seeing loved ones suffer is dreadful. It sucks. And it hurts like hell. When we’re in pain, it’s understandable to want to do anything to make it stop.

But that’s wrong. It’s totally human, but flat out wrong.

If this is a good friend of yours—heck, even if he’s a casual acquaintance—he’s in a fight for his life and he needs and deserves your support. One of the best ways to do that is to make yourself available to your friend. If your friend grants you the privilege of giving you access to that secret room in his heart during his final days, follow his lead. He will let you know if he needs you to sit in silence. And if he does, sit with him. Don’t fear the silence. There are times when words fail and only a look or touch can convey the content of the heart.

Be with your friend. If he’s allowed you in, he wants you to be there with him.

If your friend feels sad, sit with him in his sadness. If he’s angry, allow him the freedom to let it out. Whatever he’s feeling—anger, defiance, or jubilance—grant him the freedom to enter that space and join him. When he’s done … you’ll know exactly how to tell him know that you’re grateful for him entrusting you with that part of his heart and how much you love him. Child, it’s all about the be-ing, not the say-ing. Go to him and be the good friend that you are.

Wishing you all the best that love has to offer,

If you have a situation that you’re currently dealing with that you’d like me to address, send an email (with a clever pen name instead of your real name) to me at heyclay@clayrivers.com, and tell me all about it. I’ll read through the submissions, pick one, and on Thursdays I’ll post the chosen letter along with my response here on my blog, my Facebook author page, and myTwitter account. Rest assured, I will not publish email addresses. Ever.

And if you enjoyed this post, be sociable and share it with others.

10 thoughts on “Letter No. 1: What Do I Say to a Friend With a Terminal Disease?”

  1. Erik Deckers says:

    Great advice. Too many people try to fill the silent moments, looking for just the right thing to say. “It could be worse” or “I remember my friend who had this.” Or “Yada yada God’s will yada better place blah.”

    Let people feel what they’re feeling, and don’t try to make them feel better with words.

    1. Clay Rivers says:

      Erik, I think you hit yada yada yada square on the head yada yada! Thanks for stopping by and sharing, Clay. (Just wait till next week’s</em letter.)

  2. Debbie Culver says:

    Encouraging words during a time of not knowing what to say or do…perfect!

    1. Clay Rivers says:

      Debbie, I hope this post will be of help of others! Thanks for your support, Clay.

  3. Margaret tench says:

    Spot on..Clay….I cannot wait for more !!!!

    1. Clay Rivers says:

      Margaret, thanks so much. I’ve a few interesting things planned. I hope it goes as well I’m imagining. Thanks and stop back by, Clay.

  4. Connie Willis says:

    Well said Clay.. Keep it simple… Love it.

    1. Clay Rivers says:

      Hey, Connie. Thanks for the encouraging words and living the example. Much love, Clay.

    1. Clay Rivers says:

      Hey, Mr. Rossi. I know you’re not one for mincing words, so your support is very special to me.
      Thank you, Clay.

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