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Support Begins With Acknowledgment

September 1, 1997
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Related Topics: Benefit Design and Communication, Health and Wellness, Featured Article
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The question most often asked by co-workers and managers of terminally ill employees to counselors and consultants is, "What do I say to the person?" The short answer is, "something." Says Max DePree, chairman of the board of Zeeland, Michigan-based Herman Miller Inc.: "We need to prevent isolation in our organizations and we can leave no one on the fringe." Perhaps no other life event has the power that terminal illness has to isolate a person and relegate him or her to the fringes.

Of course acknowledging a person’s terminal status isn’t easy. Confirms Linda Goldman, a certified grief therapist in the Washington, D.C., area and director of the Center for Loss and Grief Therapy, "It’s normal to feel helpless around a dying person, but people who provide support feel better themselves." Nancy Breuer, a Los Angeles-based consultant and AIDS educator, offers the following advice on what to, and what not to, say as an HR person providing support.

What not to say:
Let me know if I can do something.
Instead say:
I’m wondering if it would help if I carried that.

What not to say:
I know how you feel.
Instead say:
I’m here for you if you need to talk about it.

What not to say:
I’m sure this is all part of God’s plan for you.
Instead say:
Help me to understand what this is like for you. If you will, teach me.

What not to say:
Maybe they’re wrong and you’re not dying after all.
Instead say:
I’ll be here for you whatever happens.
(SOURCE: Greg Yoder, Bereavement Coordinator and Counselor; Hospice Family Care; Mesa, Ariz.)

What not to say:
Nothing.
Instead say:
I hate what’s happening to you. I wish you could be with us forever. I’m going to miss you a lot. What can I do to help make it easier?
(SOURCE: James A. Autry; Iowa State University, Des Moines)

SOURCE: Nancy Breuer, AIDS educator; Los Angeles

Workforce, September 1997, Vol. 76, No. 9, p. 62.

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