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The precious power of words

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How to talk with a loved one who is sick

By JENNI WILLIAMS
British politician Pearl Strachan once said, “Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.”
Words are very powerful; they can lift someone up, or quickly bring someone down. Words are especially powerful when speaking to someone who is sick. Saying the right thing at the right time is very important in providing comfort, reassurance and support. Sometimes, despite best intentions, we can say things or raise issues that unintentionally add stress to the lives of those who are ill.
Lynwood Walters, chaplain for Haven Hospice in Lake City, sees patients and families every day and is constantly reminded of the importance of words when talking to someone who is sick. Walters’ advice is to never pressure the individual or make him or her feel unsupported. “Stay on the level of your loved one and talk about what he or she wants to discuss. Never push anything that would cause him or her to feel uncomfortable,” says Walters. “Make sure you tell people who are ill what you want them to hear in the way of encouragement and support.”
It’s also important to ask questions about how your loved one feels. “I always ask ‘have you found yourself angry, sad or frustrated?’ and that opens the door for the individual to talk about how they feel and what they want to talk about,” said Walters.
Individuals who are ill respond differently to words and what is supportive to them. “Trying to ascertain what is important to them is key in being supportive,” says Margaret Rose Glenn, senior social worker for Haven Hospice in Jacksonville. Glenn says the best thing you can say to someone who is ill is “I’m sorry you are going through this. I am here if you want to talk. Can I sit with you?”
Every conversation should be about your loved one, his or her needs and what he or she would like to talk about. Sometimes you do not need to say anything, just being there as a supportive presence is all that matters.
For information about Haven Hospice,  call 800.727.1889 or visit www.havenhospice.org.
Jenni Williams is the communications coordinator for Haven Hospice and is responsible for community outreach for Haven’s 18-county service area that includes Levy, Gilchrist and Dixie Counties and the Tri-Counties Hospice Care Center.