When a friend, family member or even an acquaintance is sick it can be hard to know what to say. You want to offer them support and comfort but you also don’t want to offend or say something that sounds strange. Knowing the right sort of words to use, conversation topics that should be avoided and what is or isn’t appropriate is essential when talking to someone sick. Especially when encouraging and positive words or messages from loved ones can be a real boost to those going through a serious illness.
This guide will show you exactly the right sort of phrases and words to use to give a boost to someone not feeling well. It will provide you with steps to writing your own messages or well wishes as well as many examples that you can copy and use as they are. Whilst a short few words may not seem like much, it can brighten the day of someone who might be feeling down from their illness. And even if you don’t have the opportunity to visit them in person then a message in an email, text message or even shared on social media like Facebook will still show you care and are thinking of them.
The following examples and steps for what to say when someone is not feeling well begin with more day-to-day, normal illnesses like colds and flu. Then further down you will find help with talking to those with more serious conditions like cancer and terminal illness. Finally there are examples of what not to say and phrases, words and topics to avoid.
As a general rule you can follow these few steps to getting a basic idea of what sort of things to say both in person or a card:
What to Say When Someone is Sick
Begin with telling them how awful the while situation is (without making them a victim): "I'm so sorry you're having to go through this"
Offer words of encouragement: "You'll be travelling the world next year, just wait and see"
Offer your support, being specific: "If you need anything - the kids looking after, the grocery shopping done - just ask"
Make it clear you can see them if they want: "I'll come over and see you whenever is it's convenient"
End by telling them how special they are to you: "No matter what you know I love you and will be there for you"
What to Say When Someone has a Cold, Flu or Other Minor Ailment
Thankfully colds and more run-of-the-mill viruses aren’t usually very severe. That doesn’t mean they can’t make the person suffering with them miserable and feeling blue. Being sick isn’t fun, full stop. But it means if you’re sending them a get well card or message what you say is going to be fairly straightforward.
Chances are you’ve had a cold or something similar at some point in your life, so think back to how you felt and what you would have liked to have heard or received at that time. Did you want something funny to cheer you up? Were you feeling a bit sorry for yourself and preferred comforting words of encouragement? Use your own experiences as a guide.
There are some tried and tested things that will always work in a get well message or card though. Encouraging them to “keep resting”, and “take time to fully recover”. Perhaps offering some help if they need it - “if you need anything then just ask”. Mention that “you’re thinking of them” or they “are in your thoughts”, and of course actually say “feel better soon” or “hoping you are up and about very soon”.
If you’re still struggling then these examples should hopefully give you a better idea of the sort of things to say. You can use them as a starting point or edit them to fit your situation:
Examples of What to Say or Write
I heard you weren't feeling too good so I thought I'd just send a little message to say I'm thinking of you hoping you get better soon. Keeping resting and drinking lots of fluids! We'll catch up soon
Just checking in to make sure everything's ok? If you need anything - soup, drinks, medicine - just ask and I'll be happy to help out. Feel better!
Being sick is rubbish! But I know you'll be fighting fit again soon. I'll come by and visit in the next few days if you want? Until then rest up and give yourself the chance to get better
I know you're not one to make a fuss but now is the time to be thinking of yourself. Take it easy, rest and it won't be long before you're back to your old self. See you soon
You're rubbish at taking advice but this is for your own good - rest! Just stay in bed and let your body fight that nasty virus. A few days and you'll be a new man/woman. Then we'll celebrate your health with drinks!
Just a quick message to see how you are? Let me know if I can help at all - don't be a martyr!
Sounds like someone's just trying to miss a few days of work! Only kidding! Hope you feel better soon
Bedrest, fluids, and lots of sleep - that's your prescription for the next few days. I'll drop round to make sure you're doing ok soon though
When someone is diagnosed with cancer it will be a terrible shock. So many emotions will be swirling around in their head. Understandably friends and family will want to reach out and offer their support and love. But knowing what to say after a cancer diagnosis is fraught with possible mistakes.
Being acutely sensitive to the fear and shock they are likely to be feeling is imperative. You must choose your words carefully and be mindful of how they could come across. Stick with very positive words and offering the chance to talk or just listen. Your main aim should be to make it clear you’re there for them if they need you, and that you’re thinking about them.
You should absolutely not talk about the medical aspects of their diagnosis. If you’re not a qualified doctor, and you aren’t fully aware of their details, then it’s none of your business and your not in a position to be able to add anything useful. The same applies to comparing diagnosis’s. You may have gone through cancer yourself but everyone is different and will experience it differently.
The examples below will hopefully demonstrate the sort of things to say to or write in a get well card for someone with cancer.
Examples of What to Write or Say
You are one of the strongest people I've met and I know you're going to beat this. If you need someone to talk to or just listen then I can be there for you any time. I love you, stay strong
I know you won't want any attention or fuss but I just wanted to reach out and say I can be there for you. I love you and know you'll get through this. Big hugs
This must have come as a huge shock but you can do anything and that includes beating this.
If you want to talk or just want a friend who can listen then never hesitate to ask. I love you so much and will be there for you no matter what
I'm not sure how much to say or what you won't want to talk about but I couldn't not reach out to let you know you're in my thoughts and if you or your family need anything I can be therefore you
If you want to talk then let me know. As you know I've been through cancer myself and whilst it's always different for each individual I found talking to others really helped. Either way I'm right at the end of the phone if you need me
It seems silly to ask how you're feeling but I hope you're doing ok. I'll come round for a chat soon if you like
You're stronger than you know and are going to come through this and out the other side, I promise
I'm sure you will hate being called brave but the way you're dealing with this the perfect example of bravery. You're amazing, strong and will defeat this, no doubt in my mind
What to Say When Someone is Terminally Ill
A terminal illness is, of course, the worst diagnosis you can get. Which makes knowing what to say to someone even trickier. You must be careful to avoid anything that could offend or upset someone who will be in a very fragile state. That means not overburdening them with your own emotions and sadness - they’ve got enough to be coping with on their own. However your overriding message should still be very similar - offer support, as much comfort as you can and be there for them whatever they need.
The sample ideas below will act as a guide of what to say but as with every situation you know the person better than us, and so it’s up to you to make the final judgement as to what to say and what is appropriate.
Examples of What to Say or Write
Your bravery is truly inspiring and I love you with all my heart. If there's anything at all I can do for you I want to
Throughout all this you've remained an inspiration to everyone single one of us. I am amazed by your fortitude and blessed to be your friend. I love you so much
I feel lucky to have such an incredible person as my friend. If you need a chat or someone to listen then you know I can be there for you any time, any day
You're positivity is awe inspiring and only helps remind me of the special person you truly are. I love you more than words can express
If there is anything at all I can do to help, at any time, please don't hesitate to ask. I'm there for you and will be whatever you might need
I know you have your family around and taking care of you but I wanted to reach out and say you're in my thoughts and prayers. Please stay in touch, especially if there is anything you need
If you'd like me to pop round for a chin wag or gossip then I can be there. Let's set the world to rights and enjoy ourselves!
Your my star and I love you with all my heart. Stay strong and brace just like I know you are
What to Say to Someone Who is About to go to Surgery
The prospect of surgery, however small, can be frightening. It has some risk regardless of the procedure and so whoever is facing it will be experiencing nerves beforehand. So if you’re sending them a good luck or speedy recovery message/card you will want to ensure you have a positive tone and remain upbeat.
Examples of What to Say or Write
I know this must be a scary time but you'll get through this and be better for it. I'll be there for you in the coming weeks
If you need any help after your surgery I can definitely be there. Stay strong and you'll be back to normal in no time
If you need to talk before or after then give me a shout. Everything will be fine, I'm sure
You're one of the strongest people I know and so you will bounce back from this, no problem. Keep strong and keep the faith
I know this must be daunting but you're a fighter and will get through it.
You're strength and positive outlook are so inspiring. You'll take this in your stride just like everything else you've come up against
If you're feeling poorly after your surgery I'll make sure I'm available for anything you need. Let me know and I'll do all I can
There are some topics and words you should absolutely avoid using when talking to someone who is sick.
The most important thing to remember, and applies to both what you say and how you act: It’s not about you. They’re the one who is ill so it doesn’t matter how hard you’re finding or coping with it, they’re far worse off. Always keep that in mind.
Don't tell them to 'look on the bright side' or a variation of that. Reassurance and sympathy should be the tone you're aiming for, not implying things aren't that bad or could be worse.
Don't mention their appearance or the way they look - often people who are sick, both seriously and temporarily, don't look their best. They won't want to be reminded of this so avoid any talk of this nature.
Also avoid actually telling them they look awful - that's only going to upset them further.
Try to avoid pitying them. They won't want to feel like some helpless victim.
Do not ask them in depth medical questions unless they volunteer information first. Asking about the effects of medication or how certain procedures feel is a definite no-no. Unsurprisingly most sick people want to take their minds off being ill not relive or go over parts of it.
Don't expect a reply or be offended if you don't get one. They will obviously be going through a lot, quite likely be tired and maybe just don't want to talk at that point. In fact a good way to avoid pressuring someone that's ill is by including in any message or card "no need to reply". This removes any feelings of guilt they may have about not getting back to you.