Bite Your Tongue

PadlocksMy sister Carmen has been dead nearly 40 years – and, as I found out this morning, some would still like to know the cause of her demise. As of my reply would make any difference to their own lives, other than that of satisfying their curiosity.

I remember one particular incident when, on my way home, I was stopped in the street by a perfect stranger. She asked “Is your sister all right?” and I replied, as was truly the case, that she was at home, resting.

“Oh, that’s good,” this woman said. “Everyone is saying she is at death’s door.”

I froze, tongue-tied.    As soon as I turned the corner, I threw up.

Whenever I mention this incident, the person to whom I am talking promptly relates a similar story; whether the incident involves their own sickness, or the medical condition or terminal illness of one of their loved ones.

With this in mind, I thought I’d not allow this nosey question to have been made in vain.

I contacted some like-minded friends, with whom I’m blessed, and together we compiled a list the précis is “if you keep your trap shut we’ll all think you’re a better person”.

1. If you notice that suddenly someone is much fatter, or thinner, than he used to be, do not make comments – unless he specifically tells you he intended to gain or lose weight. Never ask whether a woman is pregnant, or whether anyone is on a diet. There are diseases, as well as medications for them, that affect weight.

2. The same advice applies if you notice that someone’s hair is falling out, or that his skin colour is not healthy-looking. It is not sweet to make life bitter for others.

3. Do not mention illnesses and diseases, so that a person will open up about his. And if he does, do not trivialise it.

4. If someone tell you he is very ill, do not say “it happens”. If you are willing to help, make your offer immediately but do not tell a person not to die on you just yet.

5. Do not try to be fickle or jovial; unless this is the cue being given out by the sick person. On no account say “we all have to die”.

6. It is incredible, but there are actually people who ask “How long do you gave left?” Death does not come only through a terminal disease. Nobody, and nobody, I repeat, knows exactly how far how much longer he will live.

7. “What do I tell people who ask after you?” means that you will tell everyone a person is ill.

8. Refrain from mentioning anyone you know who had the same disease, even more so if they died young. And if the disease is cancer, do not count the family members who have died of it, on your fingers.

9. If an ill person tells you he is going on holiday, or shave off his hair, or going on holiday, ‘while the going is good’, do not be tempted to ask the person to think twice.

10. Do not tell a person you will go and see him in hospital; this assumes both that he will be bed-bound, and that he has pleasure in your company. Avoid the words jaħassra and miskina.


(Loose translation of )


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