Oct 192012

In an excellent list of what to say to a grieving person, Prevention Magazine breaks the mold. Usually, such publications focus on staying well and healthy–with the idea that we are all of us, somehow, temporarily immortal. By addressing this other fact of life, the magazine takes a step in a good direction, giving readers language and strategies to use when facing these difficult conversations. You can read the tips by reporter Julie Halpert here, at:


These great tips dovetail with advice we give in our book, Handbook for Mortals: Guidance for People Facing Serious Illness. In the years since the first edition was published in 1999 (the new edition came out in 2011, and just won the American Medical Writers Association 2012 book award!), we’ve heard from many readers that the book gave them the words they needed to get through tough times and situations. In particular, we offer words to use when talking with a very sick person, someone who is not likely to recover from his or her disease. Among our tips are these:

Instead of saying, “Dad, you are going to be just fine,” try saying, “Dad, are there some things that worry you?”

Instead of, “Don’t talk like that! You can beat this!,” try, “It must be hard to come to terms with all this.”

Instead of, “I just can’t talk about this,” try, “I am feeling a little overwhelmed right now. Can we take this up later tonight.”

And instead of, “Please don’t give up. I need you here,” say, “I need you here. I will miss you terribly. But we will get through somehow.”

Like Halpert’s article, the book offers a list of things we typically say–things that wind up being unhelpful, and even hurtful.

Acknowledging and communicating about life’s passages is an essential part of what makes us human. Kudos to Prevention magazine for taking a step in this direction. According to Halpert’s blog, she spent years trying to find an editor willing to grapple with this story. We are glad that she found one.

key words: end of life, communications, dying, grief

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