cover image THE ETIQUETTE OF ILLNESS: What to Say When You Can't Find the Words

THE ETIQUETTE OF ILLNESS: What to Say When You Can't Find the Words

Susan P. Halpern, . . Bloomsbury, $17.95 (236pp) ISBN 978-1-58234-383-9

Halpern, a psychotherapist, social worker and founder of the New York Cancer Help Program, shares here her considerable expertise on how best to comfort a close friend, colleague or relation who is living with a serious physical or mental illness. Practical suggestions are illustrated by compelling stories from her professional life, as well as from her own experiences after being diagnosed with low-grade lymphoma in 1995. Rather than focusing on what precise terminology to use, Halpern believes that what we say depends on the individual, the relationship and one's own self-consciousness. So long as the words come from the heart, it is the expression of true compassionate feeling that will be remembered by the recipient. In calming, well-crafted prose the author addresses a number of particular situations including advising friends on the importance of connecting with a physician who knows how to listen and talk to patients, less conventional ways of communicating with those who are dying and ways to effectively assist the chronically ill. She recounts the example of one helpful woman who drops off cooked food for an ill friend, but only stays to chat if her company is welcome rather than tiring. Of particular interest to parents will be Halpern's insightful chapter on talking to children about serious illness and death, in ways that are both truthful and as reassuring as possible. First serial to O: The Oprah Magazine. (Apr.)