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Ask Ann Cannon: What do I say when a loved one asks for prayers and I don’t pray?

Ann Cannon

Dear Ann Cannon • When tragedy strikes and a friend or family member asks, “Pray for us,” do you have some good responses for someone who cares but doesn’t believe in prayer? (This time it’s a member of our extended family hospitalized with coronavirus.)

When they ask in person, it’s easy to offer a hug and tell them I’ll be thinking of them. However, in these times the request is by text or email, and the words seem useless. I know the message is also just to let me know what’s happening in their lives, but I feel guilty that I can’t honor their request. And I’m not great putting emotion on paper.

Still Wants to Be There for Friends and Family

Dear Wants to Be There • Thank you for your letter. I’m sure there are a number of readers who, like you, feel uncomfortable with the request to pray for someone. I could be wrong about this, but I think that people who ask for prayers fall into two categories. The first is made up of individuals who actually DO want prayers. The second consists of people who use the phrase, as you’ve noted, to let people know about a situation and who, more than anything, hope for your good wishes.

My honest sense is that both groups would be just fine with a response that isn’t faith-specific. In other words, I think you can text or email something similar to what you would say in real time: “I’m so sorry. Please know that my thoughts are with you” or “I’m carrying you in my heart.” Would you be comfortable with either of those responses? I’m pretty sure any friend or family member who requests your prayers would be just fine with them.

By the way, I am sorry to hear about your relative and wish him or her a full recovery. I also hope that his or her immediate family members and caregivers stay healthy, as well.

Meanwhile this week, I received readers’ comments about everything from doctors to mothers-in-law to Aplets and Cotlets.

My advice to the woman who wondered if her doctor was sharing information about her health with said woman’s co-worker did not sit well with a number of readers. This comment, left on my Facebook page, does a nice job of framing the argument:

“There’s a good chance that the disclosure of the writer’s private health information by a doctor to the writer’s co-worker is a HIPAA violation. It would likely fall under the ‘unauthorized release of protected health information to individuals not authorized to receive the information’ type of violation. It’s a REALLY big deal and that doctor may have broken the law and could be fined huge amounts.”

For the record — and I did say this in the original column — I absolutely agree that a physician should NOT share information about one patient with another. Thank you, Tribune readers, for allowing me to make this crucial point more emphatically.

I also liked this advice from a woman who learned how to successfully deal with a difficult mother-in-law:

“I would kill her with kindness. My own mother advised me to do just that … and it not only worked, she became my strongest advocate.”

Finally, I received these comments regarding the Mysterious Case of the Unwanted Aplets and Cotlets:

“I have an additional idea for Drowning in Aplets and Cotlets. Maybe he can say he has become allergic to one of the ingredients. … The informal definition of ‘allergic’ is having a strong dislike.”

And this: “Send me all unwanted Aplets and Cotlets.”

Thanks again, everyone, for your questions and your responses. Keep ‘em coming.

Ann Cannon is The Tribune’s advice columnist. Got a question for Ann? Email her at askann@sltrib.com or visit the Ask Ann Cannon page on Facebook.

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