When a friend’s child is battling an illness, we want to show them we care—but Jimmy Kimmel notes from experience we may want to reconsider the well-meaning question, “How is she doing?”
As Kimmel said in a recent interview with The New York Times, constant requests for medical updates can rip open the wound of grief if a child’s prognosis isn’t good.
In the interview, Jimmy Kimmel opened up about the public outpouring of support since he revealed his young son’s congenital heart disorder. As the late-night host disclosed in a moving monologue last spring, little Billy Kimmel had emergency open-heart surgery as a newborn. Now, Kimmel people constantly ask about baby Billy’s health.
“But thank God I can say he’s doing well. If that wasn’t the case, each day would be very, very painful,” Kimmel says, adding Billy likely won’t need another surgery until he’s at least 8 years old.
But many families aren’t so lucky: Congenital malformations, like Billy’s heart issue, along with congenital deformations and chromosomal abnormalities are the leading cause of death for infants, and the second leading cause of death (following accidents) in kids between 1 and 4 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
This means that for a lot of families, constant questions about a child’s health are constant reminders of the worst possible thing any parent can imagine. Of course parents want to talk about their kids, but they may not want to talk about the illness all the time.
Kimmel’s comments remind us that maybe we should be asking about the child—not his or her illness.
Questions about a child’s interests, pastimes and personality are ways we can show friends we recognize that their child is not defined by an illness.
As Kimmel notes, all the questions about his son’s health are well-meaning and appreciated. But, in retrospect, he wonders if he should have shared so much with the television audience. “What I didn’t think through was that, everywhere I went, every day of my life, people would be asking me how my son is doing.”
It’s a question those of us whose kids are among the 84.8% the CDC considers to be in good or excellent health take for granted. If a friend or family member’s child is among the other 15% of kids, they’re likely aware of that almost all the time and don’t need a reminder.
Instead, consider asking them how they are doing—or even if they caught Jimmy Kimmel last night. When we’re dealing with big issues, sometimes small talk is easier than the obvious questions.