My husband Larry’s best friend Jim has Stage 4 lung cancer and is under Hospice care.  After visiting Jim yesterday, Larry wrote him the following note.

Dear Jim:

Before I came to visit you, I read an article by Colleen Arnold, MD, entitled Living with the Dying. Dr. Arnold gave me advice on how to walk this journey with you.  She wrote, “Let [the patient] lead the conversation and resist the urge to steer it to happier topics. Do not insist that [he] keep fighting. That can make a patient feel like a failure, or that [he] has let you down.”

I thought, “Ok, I got it!”

Then I came to visit you. And what did I do, but stress my own agenda which was: 

(1) I want you to live,

(2) I want us to be like we used to be—before cancer changed it all,

(3) I don’t want you to die, and

(4) I love you. 

So pushing my agenda, I urged you to set some walking goals and to push yourself.

You pushed back saying, “You don’t understand.”

Then after a few gulps, I changed the subject, and tried to steer the conversation to more positive topics. 

Now, here’s what I wish I would have said: “Jim, I want to understand.  Help me understand what you are thinking and feeling.  In the future I will try to be more sensitive to your agenda, your feelings and thoughts.  I want to walk this journey with you.”



Readers, here is what our experience with our friend Jim has taught us about being a friend to someone with a terminal illness: Try to remember to not lead with your agenda. Instead, listen to your friend’s thoughts and feelings, and be realistic in your expectations.

For more reading and resources, please visit our Being a Friend to the Terminally Ill page.


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