No one imagines they’re going to have a life-altering diagnosis or event. To my knowledge not too many ever hope for one, either. Nevertheless, people, no matter their socioeconomic status, get tossed such a curveball daily. How can one encourage and come alongside their family and friends in these moments?
Realize One Cannot Completely Understand the Situation: Life altering events such as a critical car accident, loss of a loved one, especially a child, severe falls which result in major injury, loss of a job or home, chronic illness, etc., all fall into this category. Even if you walked similar circumstances each body responds uniquely and each personality copes differently. Show compassion and understanding without offering one’s opinion or advice; unless asked. Learn all you can about their situation. If it’s a disease research it. No, not so you can advise, but so you can better understand. It’s okay that you don’t fully understand… it’s knowing you care which fills the heart.
Don’t Judge Their Decisions: All life circumstances and family situations are different. I’ve a friend who 2 months ago had virtually no health issues. Today, as a result of an auto accident, he’s a quadriplegic. I cannot fathom all the nuances he and his family are coping with day-to-day. To assume I know what decisions they should or shouldn’t make is comical. Yet I admit, sometimes I can’t help from offering my 2 cents – interjecting my thoughts on the subject. (I’m working on keeping my 2 cents in my pocket).
In my own life, I have friends who believe some of my choices are unreasonable or based in fear. Of course there’s an element of fear, but that’s not the basis for my decisions. There’s only one treatment available for CVID and it carries a stroke risk. My husband has Parkinson’s disease. How would he cope if his wife had a debilitating stroke? Yes, I know, I could have a stroke tomorrow and it would have nothing to do with the infusion-therapy. (If you only knew how often I’ve heard those words). A stroke which happens naturally, obviously, I’ve no control over. A stroke, caused by medication, is not a risk I’m ready to take. No treatment will cure my disease; if it did, I might be more willing to take the risk. I’m thinking before they can develop a cure they’ve got to discover the cause. For the record… choosing not to do treatment isn’t a walk in the park. It means that for approximately 9 months out of the year, I become “Bubble Girl”. I’m a social gal with a love of people. To not leave the walls of my home to go out and about in the world is … well… it is what it is. Not to mention the need to give my friends the 3rd degree about their health before they’re welcome to visit. Simple truth is my immune system’s broken. Where yours can fight off a simple virus, such as a cold, mine cannot. Treatment or non-treatment…. each carries risks and challenges. I pray I’m choosing the right one for today.
Be the Initiator – Don’t Be Discouraged: Chronic disease and life altering events Zap, with a capital Z, a person’s energy. You be the one to make the effort to keep in contact. They’ll love you for making the effort. I know I love my friends who’ve gone the extra mile. Don’t be discouraged if they’re slow to return your phone call or email. Some days, simply breathing is all the energy one can muster.
Be Intentional in Maintaining the Relationship: This goes hand in hand with being the initiator. Time has a sneaky tendency to slip away. Your life likely has variety in each day; even in its routines. The person dealing with chronic illness doesn’t have much variety; their day-to-day focus… getting through each day. To hear words such as, I think of you often, or I pray for you all the time…. I just don’t get around to calling and letting you know, brings little comfort. People whose lives have changed dramatically need to know their friendship’s still have value. They need to know that while they can’t be all they used to be in the relationship; they’re worth the effort. Their head tells them their friends haven’t forgotten them; but without love in action, the heart wonders.
Be a Good Listener: Listening and allowing others to share their life with you is such a blessing. Perhaps you’ve heard their story many times. Remember, it’s not about the message as much as it’s about the action; yours. I’m reminded of many elderly folks I know. When I call to chat, I hear a list of circumstances which bring challenges and sadness. Many I’ve heard numerous times. Yes, sometimes I really don’t want to hear them for the umpteenth time. Then I’m reminded their world isn’t as big as mine. Their issues of ageing, limited mobility, aches, pains, and doctor visits form their reference. If their family and friends are not able to listen, then I can choose to show love in action by being their designated listener.
Encourage Them in Their Journey: Encourage with phone calls, text messages, emails, visits when possible, litle small gifts, and helping through acts of kindness. I’ve a friend who volunteered to pick items up for my family when she visits Costco. Love in action. What a gift! (In my next blog I will post many ways to encourage others through acts of kindness).
Be Their Champion of Hope: Championing hope is encouragement’s cousin. When my friend called to share with me the serious accident of her hubby, words caught in her throat and she struggled for breath among her tears. My first words were, “I’m so sorry”, followed by a calm reminder to breathe. Once her breathing became more rhythmic, I reminded her of our love for them; they were not alone; we would get through this together. In that moment I was her ‘Champion‘ My friend’s will need to find a new norm. What that looks like in their life is still in process. Eventually their life will take on new shape and routines. In the midst I plan on continuing to champion hope. Life is forever changed for those who suffer a traumatic event or receive a devastating diagnosis. For many, hope gets lost behind a veil of darkness and depression. For some it’s a hard waged battle and for others it’s an occasional moment or day here and there. We all need someone who champions hope in our lives; no matter the circumstances.
Ashamedly, I admit, I’ve been guilty of doing, or not doing, all of the above at one time or another. Having now experienced some of this first hand, I ask my friends to forgive me. Life is a great teacher.
I hope you found these suggestions helpful. By no means am I an authority on the subject. If you have words of wisdom to offer I would love to hear your suggestions. I would love to do a follow-up blog sharing your suggestions and insights with others.