A while ago I read a fascinating article about phatic communication, or ‘small talk’. Phatic communication is speech which serves a purpose other than that implied by the words used. An example would be the question, “how are you?”
What this question is actually asking is, “how are you physically/mentally?” Yet how many of us actually answer this? And why don’t we?
It’s not because we’re being rude or ignoring the question. In fact, often askers are surprised when someone lists their current physical health in response! It’s because we understand that in our social context the question is often merely a greeting, a social nicety which has to be used before the ‘proper’ conversation can begin.
An example of phatic communication (small talk!)
Often when I run I call out a (breathless) ‘hi!’ or ‘good evening/morning!’ as I pass someone by. About 3 times out of ten, someone will reply. Out of that 30%, at least half reply with ‘good thanks’ or ‘I’m well thanks’ – despite the fact that I never asked if they were!
This is because they are so used to ‘how are you’ being part of ‘hello’ and other social niceties (or nonenties!) that they assume I’ve asked and thus reply automatically.
Continue reading “Why small talk is so important in chronic illness (& why I neglect it!)”
I sometimes find that ‘encouragement’ feels like lying, especially when it comes to chronic illness.
I want to cheer up my sick family member or struggling friend, but when I search through my “encouragement vocabulary” the gems I unearth are phrases such as:
‘It will get better.’
‘God will heal you.’
‘Good will come of this, just you wait.’
These comments sound nice and hopeful. They are genuinely designed to lift someone’s mood – but often I find they don’t ring true.
How can I tell my loved one ‘it’s alright’ – when it’s clearly, obviously, not?
How can I promise them ‘it will get better’ or ‘God will heal you’ or ‘good will come’ – when this might not be the case?
Continue reading “7 ways to use words to encourage someone with a chronic illness (without lying)”
Get Well Soon cards are great for broken legs and pneumonia – but do you do when someone won’t ‘Get Well’ (soon or otherwise)?
If you’ve ever browsed a two-dollar shop (as we call them in Australia), you’ll know there are many types of cards you can purchase.
Happy Birthday; Congratulations on your baby/engagement/anniversary; My Sympathy; and Get Well Soon cards. This last category can be somewhat disconcerting in the context of a chronic illness.
Of course, the easy solution is to buy your card without those words printed on the front.
But the problem goes deeper than that – what do you write in a card for someone who’s not going to get better? Should you send a card at all? How often? What’s the point?
Continue reading “How to write a Get Well Soon card (to someone with a chronic illness)”
My dear sibling, I write because there’s something I need to put square between us. You see, we share so much – genetics, parents, upbringing. Out of all the people in the world, I am most like you. However much we may differ in temperament and character, our blood binds us together.
To my sick sibling,
Illness will always be something between us,
Yet there’s one thing we do not share. You are sick and I am not. You struggle with your health and it will always be something you think about, whereas my life is not like that. You have doctors’ appointments and medication and a whole world into which I can never enter fully.
I wonder, sometimes, how this makes you feel. Do you ever feel guilty when you get attention, or when people tell you how brave you are? Do you ever feel jealous of me? Do you ever look at me and wish we could swap lives, swap bodies, swap trials?
Do you ever want to strangle me, because I can be carefree and you must be responsible? Or do you ever hate yourself because you look at me and feel weak and needy in comparison?
Continue reading “An open letter to your sick sibling”
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in hospitals, both visiting Loved Ones and working. It’s made me realise that visiting someone in hospital is not quite the same as taking someone out for coffee or popping over to see someone at their house.
In fact, for many of us, visiting someone in hospital might be a novel, somewhat unsettling experience. Perhaps we have bad memories of other hospital visits, or perhaps we’ve never been to one before.
For others of us, a hospital visit might seem easy and we don’t understand why we can’t just pop in at any time with whoever we like.
While neither perspective is ‘wrong’ (and I have held both at different times) they can both miss the point.
Visiting someone in hospital is not about us, how easy or difficult it is, or how it makes us feel.
Visiting someone is about loving them.
Continue reading “How to make hospital visits less awkward”
When you’re an extrovert a chronic illness binding you to your home is an obvious torture. Yet what about those introverts among us? Is it easier for them?
Obviously there’s nothing ‘easy’ about having a chronic illness, but the question still stands: does a chronic illness impact an introvert in the same way as an extrovert?
And if so, what does this mean for us as we try and support our sick introvert friends?
I think the first thing we have to realise is this:
Sickness and introvert-ism are two very different things
Introverts recharge by ‘alone time’. If chronic illness means they spend large periods of time alone, well, surely that equals a lot of ‘recharging’, right?
Unfortunately it’s not that simple. Introverts do not get energy solely from being away from other people. Thus it is possible to be physically away from others but not re-charge.
You see, it is not restful to be alone but unable to think clearly. It is not relaxing to be alone but to have a pounding headache. It is not rejuvenating being alone when illness prevents you from dreaming and pondering and wondering!
Continue reading “How to love a chronically ill INTROVERT”
What does it look like for us to love and serve other people besides our family member with a chronic illness? Is it possible? Is it necessary?
I’ve written previously about serving with a chronic illness, and serving overseas when someone you love has a chronic illness. But what about serving in your local church or community?
Should you serve your local community if your family member is sick?
If you are part of a local church or community, there are probably numerous opportunities to serve. Often during a Sunday morning worship service alone, you could potentially:
Play a musical instrument
Do a reading or announcement
Usher people in
Open up/lock up the building
Help in baby sit
Teach in Sunday school
Clean up the kitchen/building
… and that’s all within the space of about two hours! Throughout the week there are often many other situations in which you can fulfil the Biblical commandment to serve and love one another.
Yet it’s not that easy, is it? Those of us who have a family member with a chronic illness can find all the opportunities to serve somewhat daunting. There is so much need… and yet perhaps we find ourselves ill-suited to fill it.
Continue reading “How to serve your local community when your family member is sick”
How often have you stood ‘in the place’ of your ill Loved One?
Maybe you’ve attended an event,
answered a question,
or formed a relationship,
which they simply could not.
Delegates are people who represent someone else to a community. They go forth in their place and explain the other person’s views, character and position.
Sometimes it’s easier to see ourselves, not as Watchers of our Loved One, but as their delegate to the outside world.
Continue reading “What if they don’t understand? (Watchers we are not delegates!)”
Why am I sick?
Will I ever get better?
What am I supposed to be doing with my life?
It can take courage to ask these questions. But sometimes, it can take even more courage to answer them.
Today’s post is the first in a series of articles called ‘Talking about Suffering’…
Talking about suffering is hard! (how do you know what to say?)
Figuring out the truths about illness, suffering and the big problems of life is difficult.
It’s a different sort of hard when you are not sick yourself. How often do you feel helpless in the face of such questions? How often do you feel ill-equipped to answer your sick friend’s frustrations?
Even if you ‘know’ the right response (whether that’s an answer, rebuke or piece of advice) you might not know ‘how’ to say it.
Is this you? It’s often me!
Continue reading “Talking about suffering: Why pure motives don’t always make things right”
How’s your mum? How’s your sister?’
These are questions I get a lot. They’re great questions. They mean people are thinking about my sick family members, and it shows that the people around me understand that their illnesses are a rather large part of my life.
Most of the time I appreciate the time taken to ask a question like this, and the implied preparedness of the Asker to listen to a ‘deep’ response.
The other week though, I got asked this question twice, and each time it left me feeling guilty.
I bumped into my landlady as I was leaving my house, and she stopped me with a smile, and asked, ‘How is your mum going? And your sister’s health – how is it?’
I smiled in reply – and then froze.
Continue reading “LTCI #2: Am I my family’s keeper?”