What to Say When Someone is Sick

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

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

For more ideas try these get well wishes.

What to Say When Someone has Cancer

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

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

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

For what to say to someone when they’re recovering then try these get well wishes for after surgery.

What Not to Say

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.

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