Photographs by Laurie @ Horizons Photography

September 29, 2011

How do you help?

A friend of mine is sitting at her desk right now, worried about another friend thousands of miles away who is pregnant (weeks away from due date) and about to watch her husband undergo open heart surgery, a risky one with some dire statistics. This friend (J) is praying, hoping and encouraging her friend and wishing she could do something to help.

It raised again for me the question of suffering, and role of the friends and family in the midst of suffering. Most people hear stories of suffering and in some way they are touched by it, they feel something and especially when the person suffering is someone close to you there is almost always a desire to reach out, to help. Those offerings are a wonderful part of being loved.

The question that I have though, the one that I have pondered a lot over the past few years is what do we do to help that will actually be a help? What do you say? What is appropriate? Just the other day I had friends for coffee and we talked about this very issue. We talked about how the church offers courses for those who are suffering, support groups for people who are grieving, ending marriages, facing addiction, struggling with an illness, but to the families and friends of those same people there is no handbook on how to effectively help.

I can't tell you the countless things that Tim and I have heard, things that were meant wholeheartedly to be comforting, reassuring and hopeful that actually left us feeling guilt, or somehow that Josh's illness was our fault, our lack of faith, or some sin from our past coming back to haunt us. These things, said in love, were unhelpful and even spiritually harmful at times.

So, what do you? What do you say?

I remember meeting a woman in the CCU, her son was given days to live, he was 13 and fighting cancer. She was a Sheik, and up until the last days she was entirely alone in the waiting room, with no visitors or companions other than her scriptures. When the time became short we began to see a stream of people coming, they came in shifts, two or three at a time, never staying for long, and they just sat with her. They didn't fill the silence, they didn't offer pat answers, they didn't tell her to have more faith, they just sat with her in silence and allowed her to grieve. She directed her grieving, if she wanted to talk she would break the silence, she decided what was talked about. If she wanted to read, she read and they sat beside her, when she cried they held her, when she wanted to be alone they left. It was a very powerful testimony, a very powerful thing to witness. (*side note - the boy lived and - last I heard - doing well)

No one person grieves the same way, this is the struggle, and no one ever knows what is best, but from someone who has been there I can say that the best thing to do is ask 'what do you need from me, and then give it to them.' If they say 'I want you to go, don't be offended, if they ask you to be quiet, sit quietly, if they ask you to talk about banalities, talk about how the Leafs are sure to win the cup this year, just love them. That I think is what I would want to say to someone who is watching a loved one suffer. Love them, not the way you would want to be loved but the way they need to be loved.

I started this off by talking about my friend J, I would ask that you finish this off with a prayer for her friends, and for her and her husband as they struggle to help from a distance.