First, the Nevers.
1. WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP? Most patients I know grow to hate this ubiquitous, if heartfelt question because it puts the burden back on them. As Doug Ulman, the chief executive of Livestrong and a three-time cancer survivor, explained: "The patient is never going to tell you. They don't want to feel vulnerable." Instead, just do something for the patient. And the more mundane the better, because those are the tasks that add up. Want to be really helpful? Clean out my fridge, replace my light bulbs, unpot my dead plants, change my oil.
2. MY THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS ARE WITH YOU. In my experience, some people think about you, which is nice. Others pray for you, which is equally comforting. But the majority of people who say they're sending "thoughts and prayers" are just falling back on a mindless cliché. It's time to retire this hackneyed expression to the final resting place of platitudes, alongside "I'm stepping down to spend more time with my family," or "It's not you, it's me."
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#2 is my personal pet peeve. You're going to spend 15 seconds praying, when what I really need is someone to spend an hour actually doing something hands-on. Don't just pray for someone to bring me dinner ... get off your butt and do it yourself! (Of course, for friends and relatives halfway around the globe, and for my fellow bedbound patients, I understand that praying is all you can do.) But the ex-friend right here in town who could only ever be bothered to spend a few seconds saying "God help her", needs for God to yell at her "don't ask me, YOU do it."