Saturday, April 25, 2015

What to do for a friend in pain

What to do for a friend in pain


Dear Dr. Gottlieb

I have just learned that a person with whom I was very close in years past (I was maid of honor in her wedding MANY years ago) has had an accident resulting in a spinal cord injury, the loss of her mobility, and as a result the loss of a career in which she was both successful and reknown.

I have been assured by a mutual friend that she would love to hear from me, and I am anxious to get in touch with her. I had actually sought her out in order to tell her about the death last week of our mentor.


I am wondering what I should say to her regarding her injury. She was an accomplished musician and teacher, who, I understand is now confined to bed or a wheelchair, with an assistant to help her with feeding, washing, etc. I want to express my concern but do not want to pry. I want to support her without seeming to condescend. From your unique perspective, perhaps you could help me handle this situation in a manner that will not cause any undue hurt.


I thank you for your time and your wisdom.

A concerned friend


Dear concerned friend

At the risk of sounding self-serving, please pick up a copy of my latest book "Learning from the Heart" in which I describe (I believe in the first chapter) my experience of people coming to my hospital room. But here is the summary: don't forget she is a good friend first and foremost. Second, don't try to hide your feelings. If you feel sad, confused, or just want to cry, that's okay. If you pretend you feel one way and you really don't, she will know that and feel more alienated.

It's okay to ask her what this is all like for her. It's okay to cry with her and it's okay to do nothing because there is nothing you can do to rescue her from her pain. But having the courage to simply be with her in her suffering is a great gift.

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About this blog
Dan Gottlieb is a psychologist and marital therapist and has been in practice nearly 40 years. His career started in community mental health and substance abuse until his accident in 1979 made him a quadriplegic.

Since that time, he has been in private practice. Since 1985, he has been hosting a radio show called "Voices in the Family" on WHYY FM, Philadelphia's NPR affiliate. He was a regular columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1994 until 2008. He is also the author of four books.

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