When you encounter someone in pain, do you know what to say?
I’m no expert, but over the last 11 months, I’ve experienced the good, the bad and the ugly. As my daughter went through her ordeal with cancer, I heard it all. There is an innate drive for people to make you feel better when they know you are hurting, but trust me when I say, it can go awry very quickly. I want to share the experiences we found to be most comforting as a love letter to those who stood by us for so long – and continue to do so. I also want others to know how best to be the agents of grace to someone in their dark days. Here is our top ten:
1. Pray for them. Whether it’s your personal prayer list, church bulletin or email chain, call in the prayer warriors. Maybe you personally don’t pray every day or are not very religious. That doesn’t matter to a person going through trial. Prayer speaks of hope and healing and reassurance. Knowing how many people we had praying for us got me out of bed most mornings.
2. Words aren’t always necessary. People often think they have to say SOMETHING, but I found a physical touch went a lot further than most conversations I had. That hand hold, shoulder squeeze or hug communicated love in a way words couldn’t. It reminds us we are not alone.
3. Listen. There were people I knew I could call to just vent and they were a port in the storm. When folks are struggling, the best thing you can do is lend an ear. Combine that with #2 and you have a great formula for comfort.
4. Give them space. You can’t rush the healing process – physically, emotionally or spiritually. Don’t expect a response or tell them to get over it. Sometimes a person just needs to be - so let them.
5. If you want to do something for them, do what you are good at– Suggest an idea of something you can actually do. Giving someone ideas takes the pressure off them having to come up with something on their own and enables you to work it into both your schedules. Or better yet, just do it. One friend organized meal delivery; some people sent care packages and one lady came over every Thursday so I could get out for a few hours by myself.
6. If you offer to help, be available to do it. There is no greater joy in a time of suffering than having people you can count on. The flipside to that is, you add to their pain if you offer, then back out.
7. Reach out and keep in touch. Between all the forms of communication available to us: text, email, Facebook, CaringBridge or even word-of-mouth, there is a way to let them know you are thinking about them. Hurting people need a lot of emotional support, so whatever you do – touch base at least once.
8. Change the subject. I have several friends who made a point that whenever we talked, they told me all about them, leaving me the option to reciprocate or not. It is a huge relief not to have to talk about the elephant in the room for a change. Painful circumstances can be isolating, so talking about something other than what you are going through, especially if it’s funny, brings a much needed sense of belonging.
9. Give them the freedom to say “No.” I missed my best friend’s son’s baptism because my daughter was experiencing some bad side effects from chemo. I felt horrible for missing it but one of the best presents I got throughout our journey was when she told me I needed to stay home. Including the “no” option when you make an offer takes the pressure off.
10. Help them pay it forward. We had hundreds of people buy t-shirts to help us raise money for organizations that bring comfort to people in treatment. I’ve said thank you a million times, but there is no greater blessing than enabling someone who’s been through a difficult time, to be able to turn around and help someone else.
Feel free to add to this list in the comment section. There are some great articles out there on this topic if you want additional study, including “’You look Great’ and Other Lies”, “6 Ways to Help When Someone Has Cancer” and “Comforting the Pained.”
Don’t shy away from encouraging someone going through trial. Your words and actions could make all the difference in their journey through pain to joy, and you will leave a legacy for others in the process.