How to tell someone that you're sick and may die


  • Mind
  • Saturday, 29 Jul 2017

You've recently been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Should you share the news with friends and family, or is it better to withhold the information to avoid causing pain?

You've recently been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

Should you share the news with friends and family, or is it better to withhold that information to avoid causing pain?

If you know you are going to need their support, you have to share the news; if you prefer to go it alone, then keep it private.

Dr Lucy Hone, author of Resilient Grieving, finds it helpful to ask, “Will this help or harm me?”

Will telling other people help me tackle the challenge ahead, or will it interfere with that process?

Should you decide to share the news, feel free to do so in the way that works best for you.

Dr Hone also suggests you tell them exactly what you need from them.

Asking for support and help

If you want to talk it through, ask them to go for a walk or meet for a coffee.

If you need practical support to get to medical appointments, someone to house-sit, pick up the kids, cook meals or feed the dogs, go ahead and suggest what would be helpful for you, she adds.

Say something early

According to Dr Alan Wolfelt, director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in the US and author of Grief One Day at a Time, you should tell those closest to you early on.

If something’s weighing on you, they’ll sense it. They should know what you’re struggling with.

They also deserve the chance to support you, and you deserve their support.

Remember that relationships are built on mutual trust and communication.

Being open and honest about challenges is part of the deal.

Let them cope

“I often say that people can cope with what they know. They can’t cope with what they don’t know. Ultimately, feeling lied to can be more painful than the timely truth,” says Dr Wolfelt.

This goes for children as well. Explain what’s happening in language they’ll understand. Younger children may only need a few words of explanation. Let their questions guide you from there.

Dr Wolfelt advises that with more casual friends and distant family, it’s appropriate to share or not on a case-by-case basis.

Keep in mind that your close friends and family may need support from their networks too, so the news might naturally spread. That’s OK. The more people express their normal and necessary feelings, the better. – Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service

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