What To Say When Writing About A Serious Illness.

Dear Ms. Cards Etiquette,

My friend from college has a very serious illness. I’d like to send her a get well card, but it seems inappropriate since she may not actually recover from this debilitating disease. I live in Alaska and she lives in Kansas, so visiting her is difficult, and frankly may not happen before the end of her life. While we are not as close as were in college, we still talk a couple times a year. I’d like to send something, but I’m not sure what to send or what to say on the note when I do send it. Please HELP!

Befuddled in Barrow, Alaska

For temporary illnesses and injuries, there’s the ubiquitous Get Well card. For deaths in the family, there’s the Sympathy card. For everything else, including your friend’s unfortunate situation, Befuddled, there’s the Thinking of You card. It’s a flawless stopgap option for any situation where you simply don’t know what to say … serious or terminal illnesses, divorce, anything in the “I’m so sorry, and there’s nothing I can do to fix it” category, really.

But sometimes, even the most well-meaning greeting cards really do fall short of the situation at hand. In your case, Befuddled, I’d make an effort to visit your friend as soon as possible, or at the very least, give her a call on the phone. Kansas is indeed a long way from Alaska, but you may be able to find a discount last-minute fare if you look online and/or call the airlines. In a small community like Barrow, you may even find a private pilot who’d be willing to fly you to the nearest major airport at a discount or for free … it’s certainly worth asking around!

As for what to say on your card, I’m lacking my usual “3 step plan” for this one. Say how sorry you are to hear the news, mention that you are trying to arrange a visit and ask if/when she’s most able to have a guest (because you are trying to arrange a visit, aren’t you?), and let her know if she ever needs someone to talk to, you’ll be happy to hear from her. You might wish to enclose a picture of the two of you in happier times. I don’t know that there’s much else you can do, Befuddled. Best of luck to both you and your friend!