It was a morning I’ll never forget. My folks called and asked me to come by the house. Their typical enthusiastic tone was absent; in its place was a serious sadness I couldn’t identify.
I opened the door and saw red, tearful eyes, their carriage weighing heavy with each step. We sat down. Everything was silent for what felt like hours.
Then I heard words I NEVER expected; the “C” word came tumbling out of their mouths as tears poured down their cheeks.
One of my siblings had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and the prognosis was grim at best.
I don’t recall much of what was said after hearing the word “cancer” on that winter morning several years ago. I do recall that we talked about the “what ifs.”
But mostly, we emptied a box of tissues and sat in the quiet of unknowns.
The Pain of Suffering
Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. The fight was hard. The pain was horrific. My sibling’s yard, once full of fragrant roses grew barren as the fight for life ensued.
I was shocked to witness lifetime friends quietly fall away, either unwilling or unable to walk through the fire.
Oh, plenty of people offered advice and shared opinions . . . and then they got angry when a different decision was made and another treatment protocol was pursued.
At times I wanted to scream, “They are FIGHTING for their life! This is about CANCER, NOT YOU!” But I’ve learned through suffering that those who talk the most are often the ones who listen the least.
I would like to believe most people didn’t intend to say or do things that added to the pain, but the pain still increased exponentially.
It was dreadful to watch it all unfold. The greater the pain, the more isolated my sibling became.
How few of us know how to walk with others through the valley of the shadow of death.
Having been told my own son may die on more than a few occasions, the greatest comforters were those who said little to nothing. They just sat with me and allowed me to cry.
How to Help
On this side of heaven, suffering is promised. To put it bluntly, 100% of people on earth will be met with pain on some level. That includes you and me.
I’ve learned that when God begins to “reframe” our lives, it most often begins with something painful: a loss, diagnosis, death . . . an experience that cuts into our souls.
We question life and our purpose in it. Everything seems out of control and we’re hanging on by a thread. Maybe that’s where you are today.
Maybe that’s where someone you know is today—in the storm feeling like they are going to drown.
Since most words, advice, opinions, and fear-driven behaviors offer little help, let’s begin to practice what does help.
We’ve got to learn how to “raise the barn” together. We must help lift the walls and provide shelter for each other. I pray the following tools help you help others.
Tangible Tips for Helping People Survive Suffering:
- Pain is not about you. You can’t fix or change what God has allowed, so just be present.
- Provide a meal in containers that are disposable or don’t need to be returned.
- Don’t expect recognition or a “thank you” for your comfort. Give without expectation.
- Offer to help with daily tasks. Fill the car with gas, wash or fold laundry, mow the lawn, clean the house, help get kids to and from school, or pick up groceries.
- Don’t judge when the person is questioning their faith, doubting God, or when he or she has emotional outbursts.
- If there’s a diagnosis, learn all you can about the illness/disability/diagnosis so you are equipped to help.
- If possible, pull a group together to help pay for a house cleaner or service provider.
- Watch funny videos together; laughter is healing.
- Join the person on a walk or get outside in God’s creation.
- Pay for the person to get a massage, get their hair done, or get a manicure or pedicure.
- Make an “I care” basket. Fill a basket (or other container) with restaurant coupons, a journal, flowers, a blanket, CDs, movies, or a few of the person’s favorite things: food, drinks, candles, oils and bath goodies, cozy slippers, etc.
- Don’t put a “timeline” on the person’s healing. Practice reflective listening.
- Put something on the calendar; planning an event helps the person look forward to something.
- Without interrupting, listen to what they share: memories, sorrows, wishes, or lost dreams.
- Send a text message saying you are thinking about them.
- Watch for signs of clinical depression, anxiety, or trauma that may go unnoticed.
- Attend doctor appointments, school meetings, or therapy sessions with the person.
- Keep a list of doctors/therapists/emergency phone numbers in a visible place for the person.
- Offer to pick up and organize the medications.
- Help put medical records together in a notebook.
Let Me Hear from You
By God’s grace, my sibling is a cancer survivor; the experience changed their life in every way. Any time God shapes our character, loss is involved.
If you have suffered additional pain and been wounded by those who didn’t understand, I am so very sorry; I understand. Let’s call upon the One who understands the most—Jesus Christ.
In what way can you show the kind of care Jesus offers as you step into another person’s life in the weeks, months, or years ahead?
Additionally, what has helped you through difficult seasons in the past? Let’s come together and raise the barn in unity!
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