How to Communicate with Your Sick Loved One

Jan 13, 2015

When a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness, finding the right thing to say can feel paralyzing.

When psychologist Susan Silk was sick, some of her acquaintances demanded answers, hurting Susan and her family in the process. So she came up with a straightforward diagram to explain how communication should work in a crisis.

"You're going to draw a circle and what you're going to end up is something like a dartboard. And in the center at the bullseye is the person who's had the trauma. [...] The next ring is the person who is closest to that person."

And so on, with concentric circles for each successively close group. Once you have that visual, Susan says communication can be summed up in four words: "comfort in, dump out."

"The people closest to the middle can do and say, within rules of civility, whatever they need to say to outer rings of the circle. But people in outer rings of the circle out to be very cautious and very mindful of people who are closer in. Those are the ones that are more profoundly affected by the trauma."

On this episode of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe speaks with Dr. Silk about what to say and not say when a friend or family member is seriously ill. Dr. Jim Bell, Medical Director of Palliative Care and Hospice UnityPoint St. Luke’s in Cedar Rapids, also joins the conversation.