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LETTERS TO SOMEONE WHO IS ILL

Posted on August 07 2019

 

"We're stronger in the places we've been broken." -Ernest Hemingway

 

Sympathy takes a special form when you write to someone who is suffering from an illness or injury. Some patients who are bedridden for even a short time report that they receive way too many flowers and not enough ink on paper. When the impulse strikes you to buy a card or send a bouquet, you should add- or substitute- a good long letter that they can read and reread.

 

HERE ARE THE RULES OF THUMB...

  • Check with caregivers, family, and hospital staff to find out what type of letter is best for the patient to read and possibly to answer.  
  • Don’t assume what you write is confidential; it may be read out loud to the patient by someone else, and passed around or displayed.
  • Be upbeat and encouraging.  If you pray for people, tell them so; even most atheists don’t objejct to other people’s prayers.
  • Don’t add your own moods to the sick person’s very real problems.  Don’t try to trump their suffering with your own worries, peeves and/or past illnesses.
  • Make your friend feel as if they are still part of the outside world.  The routines of ordinary life give a sense of self that is disconcertingly absent for the sick; reassure them that they are still very present in people’s thoughts.
  • Make it personal. If you send a purchased “get well” card, add at least three handwritten sentences of your own.  Although a short handwritten note reminds them that you’re thinking of them, it won’t convey much of what you’re thinking.  Your full-length letter, on the other hand, will create your virtual presence at their bedside.  Put plenty into it.
  • Write on sunny and cheerful stationery or cards.  A picture or clipping makes a nice enclosure.
  • Make it easy for the patient to reply by enclosing stationery, a pen, and stamped envelopes preaddressed to you and to some other people who are important to the patient.  If you think this type of enclosure will seem demanding, make it humorous.
  • In setting a positive tone, make sure you deal with reality. “Get well quickly,” “I hope you feel better soon,” “We wish you a speedy recovery,” or “Be out of bed soon,” or even words to the effect of “Get well slowly,” are welcome words when recovery is a real possibility.  If, however, a person is only, inevitably, headed for worse health and knows it, then some form of “Feel better” or “Hang in there” is more appropriate.  Ban the words upset and awful from your vocabulary.  Don’t say “I feel.”  Don’t write words that undermine the patient’s confidence in the doctor’s diagnosis or treatment.

 

A SAMPLE LETTER...

July, 10 2017

Dear Kamilla,

I hope this finds you feeling better and sitting up.  Jack said you were doing major physical therapy- what a strenous full time job.  But good for you (and your doctor) for getting your leg bending again right away.  I know you’ll do a good job at PT.  Anyone who could keep showing up for crew all winter at 6 AM can certainly ace PT.  I hear there are beautiful walks laid out around the center, so you have something to enjoy when you get up to hobble around.  I’d love to come visit and bring you a care package from the outside world.  What do you hanker for?  Fruit?  Magazines?  Music?  Comic relief?  Call me at 555-460-1019 or drop this postcard in the mail to me in case it’s hard to get to a phone or e-mail.  Sorita has been asking how to visit you, so if you’d like me to give her a ride over just let me know.  Or if you’re just too overwhelmed we can wait.

Love, Kara

 

Shepherd, Margaret and Sharon Hogan. The Art of the Personal Letter:A Guide to Connecting Through the Written Word. New York: Broadway Books, 2008.

 

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