Some recent blogs Kirk M (@Blessings2you) has been writing as he and his wife Beth M (@Blest) minister to a friend who is in hospice and her husband got me to thinking about the days I spent in cancer treatment and the days which have followed. I addressed the issue of ministering to those who are critically/terminally ill a few years ago but thought I'd like to address it again from the perspective of someone who has been on the receiving end.
When a person is confronted with the very real (note I said very real) possibility that they may die within a few years, months, weeks or even days, a plethora of emotions goes through their mind. Their first reaction is usually a sense of unreality. This can't be happening. This must be a nightmare which they will awaken from soon.
They will try to escape from the situation only to remember that escaping from your own body can be a bit difficult unless you die and avoiding death is the very reason you want to escape in the first place! Hmm... that won't work.
Other feelings experienced can be fear, depression, pessimism, sadness, grief and even optimism. This of course, is not a complete list. One feeling which often is overlooked however, is loneliness. Finding pleasure in being alone is different from loneliness. The former is by choice but the other one is thrust upon you. While there are some exceptions, we are created to be social beings and most people do not like being forced to be alone for extended periods of times. You can be surrounded by a crowd of people and still be lonely.
Often when attempting to reach out to those who are suffering, whether it be from illness or some other sort of tragedy, we do one of two things. We either try to cheer them up by chattering on and on or we avoid them because we don't know what to say or it is just too uncomfortable being around them. Both of these reactions are the very thing we should not do.
You see, what you need to understand is that the person suffering generally feels cut-off from the rest of society. They struggle with feeling like they are some sort of outcast. I'm not saying that people make them feel like that on purpose but if you are going to help them, you must understand this feeling of loneliness in addition to helplessness which they are experiencing.
The world is whirling by with people laughing, talking and engaging in normal activities. Their life on the other hand has come to a screeching halt and everything centers around the question of whether they will live or die.
When you are in this state, you don't need someone to assure you it will be better. They are not a child and a simple kiss and a pat on the head will not make it all go away. So... don't pretend that it will. Trivializing their situation does not make it better!
Avoiding talking about their situation with them does not make it better either. It is what it is and if they wish to talk about it, then listen. Note that I used the word "listen". It may be difficult for you to listen but do you know what? You are not there for you. You are supposed to be there for them. It is about their needs at the moment, not yours.
So, what are the things you should do?
Simply be there.
Listen far more than you talk.
Allow them to talk about their situation if they so desire. Don't change the subject for if they are talking about it, it is because they need to do so.
Focus on them rather than on their illness/tragedy. When we focus on who they are as opposed to what they are experiencing we see them rather than cancer or whatever. This is important for when we see them, it is reflected in our eyes and suddenly... suddenly they will know they are not going through this alone. They are loved!