How to talk to the dying D.G, Myers
“How are you?” is not, then, the best thing to say to a cancer patient. Lisa Bonchek Adams, who lives with metastatic breast cancer and chronicles her experience in a moving and informative blog, suggests, “Is this a good day or a bad day?” The question is apt, because even though bikur holim (visiting the sick) is a mitsvah according to the Jews, a visit on a bad day may not be an act of kindness.Posted by Jill Fallon at August 22, 2014 12:53 PM | Permalink
Don’t tell a cancer patient about someone you know who also suffered cancer—no matter what the outcome. What is your purpose in telling the story? Will the account of someone else’s “survival” flood the dying patient with hope? Will someone else’s narrated pain and death stiffen him with courage?
Most of all, don’t babble to cancer patients about alternative medicine. Don’t pester them about nutrition and vitamin supplements, don’t theorize that the cure for cancer is being suppressed to boost corporate profits, don’t speculate about what caused their cancer, don’t announce that you’ve heard, vaguely and fourth-hand, of amazing breakthroughs in treatment down in Mexico. (Every one of these has been vouchsafed to me.)
The way to talk to the dying, that is, is to return them from death to the immediate experience of life. Neither hope nor dread belong to the moment; they encourage the patient to stare outside of time; but when the moment is lived to the full, the unexpected may reveal itself: even joy.
I am not saying their friends should distract the dying from what is happening to them, but rather should try, with all resources available, to remind the dying that their death is not all that is happening to them.
Every Saturday afternoon, now that I can no longer attend shul, my three closest friends in town gather in my living room and bring the Sabbath rest to me, debating halakhah and the future of the Jews, tossing around ideas and interpretations. For a few hours, I need no better reminder of what life contains.