It’s funny how things that seem totally irrelevant to you, become relevant as you go through life. Why would I have ever cared about the ethics of checking up on the ailing? Huh. Well I did- care a lot. Recently. When a loved one went through a surgery and my primary concern afterwards, and hers, was- how do we deal with the barrage of relatives and friends that were going to come and check up on her. Not in a way that we didn’t want them to come, but in a way that we could handle it. Given the 100 things we were handling already.
Disclaimer: I issue this disclaimer following some of the comments I got on my stories after I wrote something similar. Of course- there were people that totally misconstrued the intention behind this piece. Am I saying people should not go check on their friends and family? NOT AT ALL. Please do. It makes all the difference when done with the right intent and considerations. In fact I am truly grateful to several people who gave us support and love during a tough time.
So this advice comes, not from a place of resentment, but out of pure consideration. Because one inconsiderate visit to a family that’s going through a tough time, can leave a lot of pieces that need to be picked up. The idea is for all of us to just become a little more aware of our actions so we cause more good, less harm.
1. Ask before going
This does not take away from the fact that you might be VERY CLOSE to the person or family- it does not. But a person who is unwell usually has a very scattered routine and usually lots of sleep issues. This holds true for new moms.
Asking them before going or informing them in time only ensures that you don’t catch them at a bad hour. That they have made the necessary arrangements. Something that might seem matter-of-fact to you, stops being so for people who are struggling.
2. Don’t stay for too long
Again- no offence- but please understand even the best of socializing sessions can leave an unwell person very tired and exhausted. This is the reason people are not allowed near critical patients- because any extra use of energy- no matter how pleasurable at the time- is still drainage and requires effort to be replenished.
3. Bring cheer, not just advice
Whereas I am aware that most advice people offer comes from a good place, I have noticed people suffering from advice overdose. Especially when it includes the idea that “everything you are currently doing is wrong” or even the hint that the family doesn’t really know how to take care of the concerned person.
Please bear in mind- when someone in a family is suffering, the whole family is. Being told you are doing all the wrong things- is not a blow to the ego- but to the remaining strength that they might be operating on.
So come, cheer them up. Make them laugh. Bring something to eat. Send a funny meme really. Just “help” in any way you can and take the burden off the family for a bit- but do keep doomsday news and advice limited to the ones that are solicited.
(I have heard people narrate terribly sad stories of other ailing people in the hope of making this concerned person feel better! WHAT? Like you know that person passed away but thank God you are alive- guys, that is not cheerful. At all. Stop!)
4. Don’t take things so personally
An unwell person will have mood swings. Their family will be super sensitive. Not everyone will be at their best behavior. Please do have space in your heart to allow that.
I write this, being fully aware that it depends on what the nature of your relationship and visit- however, some of these rules apply to us as a society. The idea of fulfilling an obligation- “give Mubarak”, “check up on rishtaydars”- has us ticking them off a checklist- without giving it due thought. Even if you are to do these only as religious obligations, please remember our religion has rules for ringing a bell even! For waking a person up! It’s not just what you do, but how you do it, that matters to God.
When I wrote about this earlier- I got lots of messages from people who had ailing parents saying “they understood” and then lots from people who have not experienced disease up close, saying “they did not”. That’s the gap we need to bridge.
Empathy. Over sympathy. I’ll say it again. EMPATHY.
Before I go, I want to offer my sincerest thanks to all those who came cheered us up, who brought us flowers, food, love and prayers. Those who came and those who did not. Those who sent messages or voice notes- to cheer me up, hear me out. Not just your visit but your intention that mattered/s and made a difference. I am truly grateful- and hope to be able to lessen your burden someday.
Concept and text by Marya Javed, writer and film maker and founder of a digital content agency, No Fomo.
Illustrations by Mahnoor Tahir. To see more of her work, follow her on Instagram.