How Do You Tell People That You're Seriously Ill?

Because all advice goes down easier with a drink (even a non-alcoholic one). Especially when it's picked at random from our columnist's extensive collection of community cookbooks.

Dear Pink Lady,

I recently found out that I have a serious illness. Prior to my diagnosis, I had only told a couple of very close friends that the disease was a possibility. Because all my friends are scattered across the globe, letting the local grapevine spread the news isn't an option. Facebook seemed like a bad idea, so I opted for a mass e-mail, sent to under 20 people, informing them that I was sick. I know a phone call would have been better, but I just couldn't deal with it, and I'd rather my closest friends and cousins hear the news from me.

The problem is, now my mother is incredibly upset. She feels that my move was tacky and unwarranted, and that only family should know at this point. Yet I'm closer to some of my friends than most of my family—what should I have done?

—Already Sick of Being Sick

Dear Sickbed,

When a thorny issue of communication pops up, my go-to text is How to Write Letters for All Occasions by Alexander L. Sheff and Edna Ingalls (Doubleday, 1942). Unfortunately, the section on illness is confined to letters about the measles, and I'm guessing your situation is worse.

I was curious as to whether there actually is a proper etiquette for such a distressing situation, so I turned to the triumvirate of manners: Amy Vanderbilt, Emily Post, and Miss Manners, aka Judith Martin. Vanderbilt had the least to say, suggesting you check into a hospital stay with more than one nightgown and possibly a bed jacket. Martin points out that it is bad manners to discuss surgery or your ill health at a dinner party, but if you are in a hospital, it is perfectly acceptable. The most recent edition of Post actually has a whole chapter on illness, but still there is no advice on how to announce it. However, her suggestion of things not to say to the sick—"I know how you feel;" "You're going to be fine;" or "It's not that bad"—could stand to be noted by all.

It may be more polite to pretend you aren't ill, but there's nothing wrong with letting your closest friends know. It is possible that calling one close friend and having her tell everyone else may have been slightly more in keeping with your mother's old-school etiquette, but you're the sick one, not her.

Since what's done is done, I suggest you douse any lingering worries with a hefty dose of "cough syrup"—although since paregoric is not easily available these days, you should probably add more whiskey instead. If you aren't allowed whiskey per doctor's orders, substitute water, and you truly will have made lemonade from the lemons life has given you.


The Pink Lady

Cough Syrup

1 tsp. paregoric

1/2 c. sugar

1 tbs. whiskey

Juice of one lemon

Combine ingredients. If mixture is too thick, add more whiskey.

This week's recipe comes from Cane River Cuisine (Service League of Natchitoches, La., 1974)

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