Etiquette expert says Bruce Willis’ diagnosis reminds us what to say, not say when other patients

Bruce Willis’ family last week announced that the Hollywood star “will retire.”

The family noted that 67-year-old Willis was diagnosed with aphasia, a language disorder.

In an Instagram post, Demi Moore, Willis’ ex-wife, wrote: “This is a really difficult time for our family, and we appreciate your love, compassion and support.” She added: “We are moving through this as a strong family unit and wanted to attract his fans because we know how much he means to you as much as you to him.”


Almost immediately, many people on social networks began to share words of consolation, sympathy and more.

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(LR) Rumer Willis, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore and Tallulah Bell Willis attend Bruce Willis’ Comedy Central Roast party at NeueHouse on July 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, CA. Phil Pharaoh / VMN18 / Getty Images for Comedy Central

The situation reminded the etiquette expert that people should tell those who suffer from a serious illness (or their families) – and that people should not to say.

Jacqueline Whitmar, who lives in Florida, told Fox News Digital that one eloquent post on social media turned out to be especially good and relevant for her.

The man wrote, in part: “I will pray (like millions of us) for Bruce and for all of you. I send healing, love and light. May this difficult time be easier and comforting, knowing how much you have loved and supported everyone.” .


Whitmar said that, as wonderful as the message is, many other people seem to be “struggling with their emotions and words.”

As a result, they lose the opportunity to express truly welcoming and appropriate words of kindness.

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Actor Bruce Willis attends the CocoBaba and Ushopal event on November 4, 2019 in Shanghai, China. Photo by VCG / VCG via Getty Images

As a person who regularly advises clients on proper etiquette in many everyday situations – including preparing rooms for visitors, tipping during the holidays and more – Whitmar shared his thoughts on what to say, not say, in a situation like a serious illness .

“In fact, there is no perfect accurate way to respond when someone is diagnosed with a serious illness,” she told Fox News Digital by email.

However, “more often than not it’s just that you care enough to reach out and offer a kind word”.

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Bruce Willis attends the Comedy Central Roast of Bruce Willis at the Hollywood Palladium on July 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Rich Fury / Getty Images

Whitmar shared a few examples right what to say in this situation:

“Know, please, I think of you and keep you in my heart.”

“There are no words. Just know that I don’t care. “

“I send you and your family a lot of love and light.”

“I am very sorry to hear this news. My heart is with you. “

“I can’t know what you’re going through, but you have my support anyway.”

“My thoughts (and prayers) are with you. I’m here for you if you want to talk. “

Equally important, Whitmar noted, is an understanding of what no to say – and why. Here are examples of comments that would no by the way say:

“You must have been devastated when you heard the news.” (It is best not to speculate or claim what a person may feel, Whitmar advised.)

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Bruce Willis is shown here along with his daughter Scout. Getty Images

“The Lord has a plan for you.” (A person may or may not share your beliefs or practices, Whitmar said; also many people are focused on the here-and-now and not yet thinking about the future.)

“Let me share my experience with you.” (It’s not about you!)

“I know exactly how you feel.” (Whitmar noted: “Everyone’s situation is different. Never think you know how someone feels, even if the two situations seem similar.)

“Look on the better side. It could be worse.” (It doesn’t make sense to “compare the illness or situation of one person with the illness of another,” Whitmar said.)

– How did it happen? (It is better to refrain from asking personal questions.)

“Serious illness is never an easy topic to talk about. That’s why some people are afraid to say anything at all, and as a result avoid it altogether,” Whitmar said.

“But be warned,” she said.

Your silence on this issue can be perceived by a person who is suffering as painful – just when that person is most in need of kindness, compassion and care.

Whitmar said the offer of help in such a situation is often accepted with gratitude.

And “don’t wait for a person to ask for mercy,” she stressed. “Take the initiative.”

Some ideas for help – depending on how well you know the person – include a suggestion to cook and leave it; offering to carry out assignments; find out if you can help with childcare, pets or household chores; and decided to assemble a well-thought-out care package filled with bakery products, magazines, puzzles, etc.


Over time, it is wise not to forget to turn to a person from time to time, Whitmar said.

“Even a quick message or a note labeled‘ I think of you ’can make a difference during recovery,” she said.


Whitmar is the founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, a leading consulting firm in business etiquette and hospitality in Florida.

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