Manners for When You or Someone You Know Is Sick


Manners for When Someone is Sick_Option One

By: Maralee McKee

Today’s question is one we all need to know how best to answer. That’s because, whether it’s something common like the flu or a dire announcement from the oncologist, our life or that of someone we care about is going to be altered by illness, either for a season or eternally.

Illness tends to strike quickly, and when it does, we’re thrown off balance. In the midst of it is not the time to wrestle with what to do. The best time to know how to graciously help a friend who’s battling illness, or how to accept or decline someone’s help if illness touches you or someone in your family, is NOW.

Pre-knowledge is a prerequisite for best dealing with any situation.

When it comes to illness, we want to use the gold standard of interacting with one another so we can forgo awkwardness or second guessing.

Let’s discover manners for accepting help when you, or one or more of those in your home, are sick, and for offering your help when someone you care about is ill.

Q & A Thursday

Today’s question arrived last week in my email inbox. If you have a question for this segment, you can send it to me at [email protected]

The Question:

I had surgery and now face both radiation and chemo for breast cancer. I have great friends who are ready to do everything from providing meals, driving me to appointments, taking care of my children — you name it. Should I write and email a thank you card in each instance? Is email or a phone call ever OK instead? I would appreciate your advice.

One friend said I shouldn’t have to write any notes and that she would be mad if I sent her one instead of resting and concentrating on getting well. What should I do?


The Short Answer:

Dear Jenna,

You have one vital thing to do. This one thing is so important that you must put it above everything else in this coming season of radiation and chemotherapy: You must battle cancer with everything that is within you. You must take care of yourself, and you must get well.

No, you don’t need to write and mail a thank you note for every car ride, meal, child sitting, house cleaning, and laundry-washing kindness your friends are about to do for you out of love. They don’t (and shouldn’t) expect it, and you need to save your energy for getting well.

After you complete your last chemo and radiation treatment, you can thank them. (This would be a sweet gift for your friends to do for you, but you certainly can do it for them instead.) Order a cake, break open something bubbly or sparkling, have all your helpful friends gather around you, and tell them how much you love them and how you couldn’t have gotten through this without them.

Speak from your heart.

If you’re anything like me, you’re going to cry, and that is going to start your friends crying. Once everyone is crying, someone will break the tension by saying something funny, and then everyone will follow, and all the tears will be tears of joy. The memory of celebrating with you will remain in your heart and theirs forever.

I’m praying for you already, Jenna.

Grace Notes for All of Us: 

~ It’s hard (to put it mildly) to be thankful when the medicine that is supposedly making us better feels like it’s trying to kill us. On the days when the medicine for our body feels so destructive, our soul needs an extra dose of medicine. That medicine is gratitude. Each acknowledgment of gratitude is a bolt of electricity for our soul. Keep a gratitude journal, and every day write at least three things that you’re thankful for. Writing thank you notes, sending texts, or making calls will make you feel better. On a day when you’re strong enough, try it out. It might become one of your favorite quiet activities.

~ When you’re sick and others offer you help, take it. They wouldn’t offer if they didn’t want to. Allow them the opportunity to be blessed by blessing you. Don’t worry that your house is a mess. Don’t even consider how you look. All of that is vanity. Take the help and say, “Thank you.”

~ If you’re visiting an ill friend, don’t worry that you don’t know what to say. Silence is golden and beats the heck out of yacking when someone is feeling awful. It’s OK to sit with the person in silence. Your presence in the room is speaking for you in the sometimes-silent language of love. It’s also OK to say, “I don’t know what to say.” Your friends don’t expect you to have any more answers than they do. Please don’t stay away because you don’t know what to say. Showing up shows your love.

~ Children need breaks from the stress of seeing a parent ill. Offer to take their child(ren) with you when you go places. Money is often hard to come by for someone who is sick and can’t work. If you have the resources, pay for everything. Treat their children as your own. Allow the children to talk about the illness if they bring it up. Defer delicate questions back to the parents: “Laura, you asked a hard question. I don’t know whether your Dad is going to die. I know we don’t want him to. It’s OK for you to ask him that question. It won’t scare him. What I do know is this: right now we’re in the car on the way to get frozen yogurt, then we’re going to watch DVD’s when we get back to the house! What are your favorite frozen-yogurt toppings? I like cookie bits and chocolate syrup!” (Answer and deflect.)

~ Don’t ask ill friends what you can do for them. Do something, and then ask, “What can I do next?” The reason? Most people have a hard time accepting help. They don’t want to put you out or have you work on their behalf. So try something like this: “Micah, I just finished the laundry. Before I go, I have time to dust the house or clean the back porch. I’m going to do one of them. You choose.”  If he doesn’t make a choice, then say, “OK, I’m going to clean the back porch. The pollen is awful, but the weather is nice. You might want to sit out there for a while this evening.” Leave the room before he has time to start his “I feel bad that you’re working hard on my…” speech.

~ Call before coming. People need time to get used to the fact that someone will be with them. Ask whether there’s a best time for your visit, and ask them to start thinking of things they’d like you to do to add to the list you’ve already made. (If they do ask you to do something, do that before or instead of what’s on your list.)

~ When you call, offer to pick up some things at the store for them. Maybe they’re craving 7-Up, bananas, and Jell-O, but they’re out of all of them. If you can afford it, pay for it without accepting repayment. When they offer to pay, say, “Save that for when you’re feeling better and we go out to eat!”

~ It’s OK for them to let you know they feel too sick to see anyone today. However, that can’t become a habit, because it’s too easy to slip into despair when alone. As a friend, don’t be afraid to be bold enough to say, “You haven’t had visitors in three days. That’s too much time alone. I’m going to come over and bring something I have for you. We don’t have to talk. And you can throw me out, but I’m coming over.” Once you’re there, if you tune into what they need at the moment (quiet or conversation), you won’t get thrown out. They’ll be glad you’re there.

~ Try something new: set up reading dates with your friend. Get a great novel and come over at preset times to read out loud to her. Or listen to a book on Audible or a similar service. The one catch: neither of you are allowed to read or listen ahead! That way, it’s something to look forward to always doing together. (You can also binge-watch a favorite TV show or genre of movies.)

It’s a fact that people get sick. It never has to be a fact that they weather the storm alone. Bring the umbrella of your care and friendship, and the lightning, thunder, and strong winds won’t seem nearly as scary.

What Now? 

Please subscribe to this blog. Facebook randomly sends it to just a few people, about 250 of the 7,500-plus people, who Like the Manners Mentor page. I will never share your email address, and you can subscribe to receive these free blog posts in your email inbox by typing your name and best email address in the box below this post. (You’ll also receive my free illustrated dining guide as my thank-you gift. You’ll be the savviest diner at any meal!)

Also, please Like, Share and Tweet this post from this page to let others know that our blog exists! The reason for our success is you, and I’ll never be able to continue it without you! Thank you so much for being part of the family!

Until next time, give the world what only you can give…you at your best! It’s what you were born to do!

Hugs and blessings,

Maralee's Signature








Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best-friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! To learn more about Maralee click on the "Meet Maralee" or "New? Start Here" links at the top of this page.

Glove Etiquette: The Top 7 Things To Know

By: Maralee McKee Let's talk about glove etiquette, including dress gloves, winter gloves, and wearing gloves dur...

What is the proper etiquette for sitting and standing? Discover the manners for when to stand and why.

When to Stand and Why

  By: Maralee McKee With the changing roles of women in the workplace, and workplace etiquette becoming m...

What is the modern etiquette for holding the door for others? Discover how these modern etiquette tips will help you appear classy and poised.

Opening and Holding the Door for Others – The Top 5 Manners

By: Maralee McKee There's more to opening and holding the door for others than turning the knob or holding i...

Buy Manners that Matter for Moms now!