by Carolyn Miller Parr
What can you say to the parent of a 17-year-old son who dove into a wave this summer and came up paraplegic? Or your 53-year-old family member who suddenly discovers he is riddled with cancer? Or “Sarah,” a church friend, who will soon celebrate her 56th wedding anniversary, holding her husband’s hand and watching his slow but unstoppable surrender to dementia and death?
Recently I have felt surrounded by grief. It knocks at my own door and I see it everywhere. I can smell it, touch it. Anyone who watched the Pope’s visit on TV saw plenty of it. He waded into it: immigrants, homeless people, prisoners, babies attached to oxygen. Francis knows how to speak to pain.
Sarah showed me cards people have sent. The “Get Well Soon” kind don’t touch the situations of inevitable loss, though Sarah appreciates the care behind the card. But others bear consoling words that really feel helpful.
The injured teenager (or a wounded warrior) needs words of encouragement. View the setback as a challenge. Encourage your friend to remain positive, affirm his inner resolve and resilience. Helpful words are “courage,” “strength,” and “hope.” If a complete cure will not be possible, speak of hope for a meaningful future.
Whether one considers himself religious or not, wishes for peace, hope, and comfort are meaningful. A Hallmark card expresses a hope for “Moments of grace when you need them most.” For people of faith a simple, “I’m praying for you” (or sending loving thoughts your way) can be helpful. Scripture quotations may be comforting: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” (Romans 8) Or “To everything there is a season.” (Ecclesiastes 3)
Reveal your own vulnerability
“I hardly know what to do or say. This must be so hard for you.” Indeed, as a Hallmark card said, “Illness can shake up your world in a way that little else can.” As a friend, you may feel helpless in the face of a situation that can’t be fixed. Winnie the Pooh told Rabbit, “A friend is someone who helps you up when you’re down, and if they can’t, they lay down beside you and listen.”
A hug or holding hands does not require words.
Say “You are not alone.”
People who are terminally ill – and their families — often feel abandoned or isolated. It’s very important to remind them that others care, that they are surrounded with love and being held in the light. Visit often; simple presence shows that you care. Offer a few hours to give the caregiver a break. Say, “We’re all thinking of you.”
Once when I was very sick, I confessed to a friend that I found it hard to pray for myself. He said, “Don’t worry. You don’t have to. We are all praying for you. You can pray for the people who are praying for you.”
I loved that. And I did not feel alone.
© Carolyn Parr and Beyond Dispute Associates, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carolyn Parr and Beyond Dispute Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.