on being quietly present.

the months since my mom’s diagnosis have been a catalyst for growth and change, though i admittedly didn’t want any of it to happen this way. out of the dozens of lessons He’s thrust in front of me since november, what not to say sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. i’ve learned quickly what i will try my absolute hardest never to say to someone with a parent or loved one who is ill or in crisis. individuals seem to feel exceptionally free and forthcoming with whatever wisdom or advice they feel i need, and it isn’t always an easy pill to swallow. their intentions, i’m convinced, are as pure as can be. unfortunately, it doesn’t alleviate the sting of their occasionally insensitive remarks – some of which i’ll share at the end.

i decided to poll my friends and followers on twitter several days ago, asking them what they dislike hearing from others when in a situation that resembles mine. the replies i received were insightful and raw.

ronnica: “everything will be okay.” how do you know?

ashley: “i know what you’re going through.”

dana: it’s tough having romans 8:28 quoted time and again, even though it’s true.

addison: “i know how you feel. this one time, …” no one can know how you feel, so don’t compare your story to mine.

heather: i hate hearing, “i know how you feel.” no matter how similar it could have been, everyone reacts differently.

kristina: when people die and others say, “they’re in a better place now,” that really bothers me because it’s often not true.

justin: “it’s going to be okay.” what does saying that even accomplish? nothing. i’d rather hear realism. sometimes it’s best to do what job’s friends did before they opened their stupid mouths, and just be quietly present.

jonathan: i dislike hearing “everything happens for a reason.” it doesn’t make me feel any better thinking it was supposed to happen.

veronica: “it’s God’s will.”

sarah: the worst is, “i’m sorry.” and, “why do bad things happen to good people?”

linn: “don’t worry. it’s going to be okay. you will see.” this is what i don’t want to hear if a beloved person is ill or in need! 

kelly: “God will take care of it.” God also allows people to pass away. and please, don’t say, “i’m praying for you” if you’re really never going to.

i’ve been told several times to think positive thoughts, to be strong for my mother instead of showing my fear, or that this isn’t the end of the world. though these and other utterances are surely intended to put things in perspective for me, that isn’t what i’m looking for. and while i’ve only been asked how i’m doing with everything a couple of times, i’ve discovered that no one wants to hear the truth. insensitivity hurts so much more when emotions are already magnified by an illness or hardship.

where does this leave us, then, who will all undoubtedly one day be in a position where someone we know is suffering? be geniuine. be sensitive. pray with us intead of saying you’ll pray for us later. ask what you can specifically do to help with practical needs, rather than telling us you’re available if we ask. listen. don’t ask how we feel unless you’re prepared to hear the answer in a loving way. don’t feel the need to offer advice or instruction. don’t make promises you have no way of fulfilling for us. if you feel uncomfortable or don’t know what to say, say nothing. often, the best thing to do is be quietly present.

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6 Comments

Filed under grief, silence

6 responses to “on being quietly present.

  1. Beautiful. What a needed conversation.

  2. Lisa Turney

    I would like to tell the other side…..I try to believe that people in general (not all), do and say what they think will help. People that have been through something like this have aching, bleeding hearts for those who are faced with cancer as well as the patient themselves. We pray and think very carefully of what might be the “right words”, if there is such a thing. The “right words” are different for everyone. I don’t believe anybody says something intending to hurt someone any more than they are already hurting. My family has experienced cancer and all that goes with it. We experience all sorts of feelings such as anger, sadness, fright and many many more! I felt it easier to think that people aren’t so much insensitive, rather they hurt for us also and so deeply want to console us the very best they possibly can, because they love us! Let’s face it…..CANCER SUCKS!!!!!

    • hey lisa! i wholeheartedly agree that more often than not, we act upon our empathy and pain for others, and try to offer whatever comfort we can through that. the stories and personal experiences of those who’ve survived cancer or endured it with a loved one have encouraged me so much! i love getting advice from people who have cared for ill parents, or hearing how God blessed them even in the darkest days. unfortunately, the comments i was addressing in this entry weren’t of that nature. you’re absolutely right – the right words are different for everyone. and because we can’t figure out what will help or hurt everyone we come into contact with, i think we can all benefit from learning what has or hasn’t helped others in the past!

  3. Very insightful. I think that so often we try to do something to end quickly the scary cycle of grieving. Unfortunately, grieving is natural and trying to end it early can do more harm than good. Maybe we should all just choose to join our friends in their hurt instead of ending it. Your advice is excellent.

  4. Thanks for sharing your insight! It is so helpful.
    “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
    Romans 12:15 reminds us as Christians, we do not rejoice or grieve alone. We are to bear one another’s burdens. There’s a beautiful song we sing at church that reminds me of you. Thankyou for choosing to seek to glorify God with your life regardless of the situtation you are in.

    Blessed Be Your Name
    by Matt Redman

  5. Pingback: comforting without talking. « wild hope.

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