Communicating with Friends and Colleagues
A friend has been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness. We’re not really close, but we get along well. Is it appropriate to reach out to her? How should I do that?

If you feel that you’d like to be in touch, we encourage you to do so. You know best what fits for you and your friend: an email message, a phone call, a card or a gift, such as a book, a small plant or a bouquet of flowers.

If you decide to write or talk to her, you may be worried about what to say. Sometimes, the best place to start is by sharing what is on your mind and in your heart. Acknowledge that you have been thinking about your friend and that you care about how she is doing. Be honest and be yourself.

Be open to talking about whatever your friend wants to discuss. Most people provide cues, so listen for verbal signals indicating what your friend is comfortable or uncomfortable talking about.

The big question is often whether to be up front about the illness or whether to ignore it. Trying to ignore the illness is probably going to feel awkward. There isn’t a specific recipe that works in these situations, since everyone is different in how they live with their illness and, eventually, how they approach their dying. owever, if you have other opportunities to connect with your friend, not every conversation needs to be about the illness or its progression. Think about what you would have talked about together before she was ill.

If you offer to help, take your cues from your friend and perhaps from her close family and friends. Be realistic about your time and ability, and let your friend and those close to her suggest things you can do. They will be able to tell you what is helpful, or what works and what doesn’t.

Considering what you can do is valuable, but it’s also good to be mindful of what not to do. For example, if your friend shares a variety of feelings or talks about difficulties in coping, really listen to her. Avoid suggesting that she stay positive or saying that “things will get better.” You risk shutting her down if you do.

It’s important, too, not to give unsolicited advice about what your friend should or should not do. Sometimes in our efforts to be supportive, we may suggest things that work for us but not for someone else. Keep in mind that what your friend shares with you should remain private and should not be shared with others unless she asks you to do so.

People mainly need to be accepted for who they are and how they are. Your willingness to accompany your friend on a road filled with twists and turns requires openness, honesty and sensitivity. You also need a healthy dose of self-care and awareness of your own thoughts, feelings and needs.

It’s important to remember that a person’s needs and wishes may change dramatically over time. With advancing illness, your friend may find that she needs to limit visitors or save time for herself. Therefore, her circle of family and friends may become smaller as her energy and reserve lessen.

It’s important for your friend to feel that she can make decisions about who will help with what. As her illness advances, however, she may decide to reduce the number of people around her. Remain sensitive to her decisions, and don’t take it personally if she limits her contact with you. Respect her wishes and assure her that you understand and are available if needed.

See also: What Do I Say? and Tips for Visiting