Sandy was diagnosed with lupus last week and she is reeling from the emotional roller coaster, embarrassed about the swelling and butterfly rash on her face, and scared about the future. She just wants to crawl back into bed but she goes to the mailbox to face the reality of the bills that are starting to arrive. She is thrilled to find two cards, however, both of them seeming to yell, "Get well soon!" at her with smiley faces and flowers. She sighs and buries her face in her hands, wanting to cry, but holding back the tears. She doesn't know if she should be grateful or annoyed. Her illness is supposedly chronic. She can't just get well soon like she got over a cold.
When is it not best to send a "get well soon" card?
Get well soon cards are for people who have a temporary infection or who are recovering from surgery. But are they for those with a chronic illness?
Kari Essenpreis explains, "When I get 'get well' cards, it makes me feel like the person doesn't understand my chronic pain."
"Get well soon" cards are not the best choice when the person has a chronic illness like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or any one of the thousands of invisible illnesses.
Why should I not send a "get well" card?
It's a little thing called tact, or illness etiquette.
"'Get well' cards irritate me at times because they imply that is gonna happen, when with invisible illness, this isn't realistic," explains Melissa Smallwood. "On the flip side, I know people mean well and I appreciate the gesture."
Think about it... "Get well soon!" isn't even worded as something you are wishing. It can feel like the sender is telling the recipient to do something about his or her health status. When you have a chronic condition, you are doing everything within your power to get better, to feel half-way normal again, to have some of your typical energy back to complete daily tasks. When you are hanging by a thread emotionally and physically, and you open a card with the instruction to "Get well soon!" it feels as though the sender is insinuating that you have a choice in the matter and you are not choosing to get better.
"Sometimes, 'Get well' isn't going to happen and when you know that, that sentiment can make me sad," shares Cat Travis. "I'd much rather receive a card that says 'I'm thinking of you' or 'I'm praying for you,' or some other word of encouragement."
So what cards do chronically ill people prefer?
I asked people to share what types of sentiment they would prefer to receive in their mailbox. After all, we all still love to find a colorful hand-addressed envelope in between the stack of medical bills. Overall, respondents seemed to appreciate any card that shared the care and concern of the sender. Fortunately, there are a variety of cards out there that can communicate your concern to a friend with a chronic condition -- if you can just resist stopping at that "get well" section of the card shop.
Heidi Lokey particularly likes the Shoebox line of cards from Hallmark. "They have a lot of cards that are fun and light-hearted, including some for 'coping with difficult times.'"
Zakiyyah, who lives with fibromyalgia, says, "I would like someone to send me 'Be Good To Yourself' card. I tend to need that reminder a lot!"
"If I were to receive a card, I would want it to be humorous since that's how I and my family deal with it," shares Laurie Roerink. "If someone really wants to help, they could put a 'coupon' in the card for an afternoon of light housekeeping such as kitchen cleanup, laundry, vacuuming, dusting, or maybe a one dish dinner meal for our family. Guilt is a big issue for me not being able to take care of my family or house properly."
Many people find encouragement knowing they are in someone's prayers. "I have always liked a card that says we are praying for you," says Debbi Farmer. "This means more knowing I have those out there praying for me than someone just saying 'get well soon.'"
Linda Kinyon loves when people remember her family members too. "Those who are taking care of the sick need encouragement as well."
I never know what to write in a card
When a friend is hurting, it can be hard to know what to say and so we sometimes delay saying anything at all. We go to the card aisle and try to find something that will say what we cannot find the words to express. Don't be afraid, however, to buy cards that express yourself and the relationship you have with the person. Include a comic strip, rather than the latest research on her disease. Get a funny card with quick wit and write a short note rather than not sending anything at all because you can't find that perfect sentimental card.
If you cannot think of what to say, just write, "I wish I knew what to say, but I can't find the right words. I am here if you need me or if you just need a shoulder to cry on." She will appreciate your honesty more than any generic "get well" card you can find.
Joyce Meyers has a sense of humor about it all. She says, "I knew I was dying when people quit sending 'get well' cards and, instead, sent 'thinking of you' cards. Obviously I didn't die, but I was really sick and it was sort of funny."
Remember, most people with a chronic illness will likely always be ill. What they need most are consistent friends who show up in their lives and let them know, "I am still here. I am thinking of you." Don't be afraid to reach out and just say, "I hope today is better than yesterday."
Lisa Copen is the founder of a Christian ministry that serves the chronically ill and author of the book Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend. Read an excerpt of the book of 52 Ways to Help a Sick Friend" at the Rest Ministries web site.
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