Monday, December 2, 2013

Comforting words – but be careful what you say!

Dress well,
take a happy face!
I read an interesting e-article in the LA Times. The author pointed out that many feel the need to say SOMETHING, and end up reciting things that may be meaningless, or even harmful to the psyche of those with an illness, those who may be bereaved, or those in pain.

My late mother always knew what to say. She told me a story, having lost a second baby (2 years before she adopted me), and she was recovering in hospital. Her best friend came to visit, dressed up, wearing her best hat, bringing some smelly soaps on a lovely bone china plate. It made her feel incredible seeing her best friend who took the time to dress well and visit her.

You've heard them
"It's for the best. "
"She was in pain."
Too many people complain that they, or loved ones, have had experiences when some not-so-kind soul has put their foot in their mouths, reciting trite sentiments at the loss of a loved one, or a serious illness.
Most want to provide solutions, if not comforting words.

Too often, I've been bedside of a hospice client, and heard crazy things said, or words repeated by a client to me as they vent.

Which brings me to the graphic. We vent most to those closest to our circle of care, as well we should.
Anyone with an illness or emotional burden to bear should be able to vent without fearing the response.
On the other hand, any words people in our circle of care recite must be comforting, and not a solution to our situation, which they might perceive as a problem to be solved. What is simply IS. What changes as we age and if we are ill, changes what we hope for.

I recall sitting bedside of a woman in her 80s, with bone cancer. She was in her last days. Her childhood school friends visited her and said, "She's looking much better than last week, isn't she?"
Now, when you know some one has a palliative diagnosis, this just is wrong. This is the time to day goodbye, tell them you loved them and value their friendship.
Of course, her peers believe she is "very young" to be so ill. Cancer doesn't choose it's hosts. Cancer is made up of cells gone wrong. These cells are produced by one's own body, not an alien that flew in to get you.

You are in my prayers
False hope is difficult for family to bear. Goodbyes need to be said. "I love you", needs to be reiterated. We need to tell them what it meant to have them in our lives.

What should you say?
In my group dynamics work as an educator, and my hospice education and training, I've found it is best to simply feed back what you hear the person saying.

Recognize how they feel, reiterate their feelings as confirmation. Do not offer solutions if there are no realistic ones. Yes, terrible things happen to good people, and we cannot change that. It isn't punishment, it is the situation, which must be faced. "I'm sorry you have pain today."

Here is what one person said:
Sara found her spirits suddenly lifted, though, when a co-worker she barely knew came up to her and said, softly but emphatically, "I hate the news about your health." "It was as if she were offering to fight alongside me," Sara says; "and she didn't even have to say the C-word out loud."
These pots needed pansies
-my first client's steps.
I watered weekly, too.

Words of comfort

  1. "I'm sorry."
  2. "I want to help, if I can. I'm free Friday."
  3. "I love you."
  4. "That must be awful/gratifying/painful/frustrating/wonderful." 
  5. "I don’t know what to say, but I care about/love you. "
  6. "Do you just need to vent? I’m all ears! "
  7. "I really admire how you are handling this." 
  8. "I don't know how you are going through, but I can listen."
  9. "I'm going to the grocery store. What can I bring you?"
  10. "I know its difficult. Tell me what you are feeling."
  11. "I’m bringing dinner Thursday. Do you want lasagna or chicken? "
  12. "Can I take your kids for a play date? My kids are bored." 
  13. "I can’t sit still. Got any laundry I can fold?" 
  14. "I saw these flowers and thought they’d cheer you today." 
  15. "I have am free tomorrow, if you need me to run some errands or take you somewhere." 
  16. "Do you want me to come over while you wait for test results? "
  17. "You are amazing."
    My friend in LTC, Michele.
    An anonymous friend sent flowers!
  18. "Is there anything on your To Do list that I could do for you?"
  19. "What is the one chore you're loathe to do?... May I do that for you?"
  20. "May I walk your dog, water your plants, wash your windows for you today?"

Helpful things you can do

Groceries, laundry, gardening, shovelling snow, house cleaning, dusting, tidying, plant some flowers.
I sketched a picture for you!

How not to say the wrong thing


When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan's colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn't feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague's response? "This isn't just about you."

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