Emily McDowell makes this great card. I sent this to my friend who had breast cancer because every time we were together and we saw someone she knew, they would come over and invariably share a horror story about someone they knew who died of breast cancer.
After we politely sat through the tale of horror, I would remind her to “Shake it off! That’s not your story.”
Sometimes my friend would get angry and say, “How can people be so thoughtless and cruel? Why when I’m fighting for my life why would they want to discourage me by telling me about someone who lost their battle? ”
At first, I tried to defend them and say, “I think they’re trying to find common ground with you right now and they just don’t know how to do it.”
But then it happened so often I said, “People are just stupid.”
Let’s be honest, we have all found ourselves in situations where we feel like we should be able to give advice or we desperately want to find some common ground and be helpful. And often we discover that all we can find is to tell someone about someone you knew or heard about that went through the same thing or something similar.
We’re grasping at straws.
The sad thing is that the person you’re talking to knows you’re grasping at straws and they feel bad for you so even though they are suffering or sad or sick, they re spending precious energy and emotion ministering to you by letting you ramble on in your embarrassment.
I think I can help the situation. Let me advise you:
- Unless you’ve had the same experience, just admit you can’t relate and don’t know what they’re going through so don’t act like you do.
- It’s okay to say, “I don’t know what to say.”
Times like these often just require you to practice The Ministry of Presence. A friend of mine shared this with me.
All you do is just be there.
Just be there.
You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to give advice. You don’t have to save them. You don’t have to do anything. You probably can’t make it better. So, it’s probably best that you don’t even try.
The best you can do is just be there. Your presence alone is a gift and a comfort.
Then if they ask you to do something, you can decide if you can do that. If they ask you what you think, tell them.
In my experience, most people who have serious, serious illnesses have already faced their own mortality and wrestled with their fears privately. When they are ready to be with people they really like distraction. They like to think about something other than themselves. They want to see you happy and love for you to tell them about your life, your family, your children and pets. So, it’s okay to talk about your joy because I have found that people who are battling for their lives have discovered they don’t have time or energy to mess with petty issues like jealousy.
People who are suffering are sometimes the most generous, kind, patient and loving people on the planet. And they spend a lot of time loving and being patient with those of us who mean well but just stumble and fumble around them trying to be helpful. They use a lot of energy telling us, “It’s okay” and “Thank you.”
I discovered that when I stopped being freaked out about not knowing what to say or what to do and I just decided to show up and listen, not only was I more helpful, I was ministered to as well.