Last Sunday Christine Scott wrote part 1 of a series about her sister, Laura’s Story. She stated, “… what happens when those long awaited milestones don’t happen, when friends and loved ones question your child’s progress, and maybe suggest something is not quite right? When illness and hospital stays become commonplace, how do these parents cope?”
Connecting with someone who is dealing with tragedy or heartache can be uncomfortable, especially if our friend or family is facing something we’ve never experienced. Walls may be raised as a coping mechanism on each side. How do we gently and gracefully break through those walls?
Christine also wrote, “Well-meaning family and friends commented on Laura’s lack of progress, but my mom refused to believe them. Her response: ‘She isn’t that delayed for an eighteen-month-old. She’s just a late bloomer.’ Laura was beautiful. Laura was perfect. She was everything my mom dreamed her to be, so she didn’t listen. Even the family doctor supported my mom’s theory about my sister being a late bloomer. Looking back, my mom admitted she didn’t want to know. She didn’t want to face the hard, cold reality that something was seriously wrong with her baby.”
This heartfelt article made we wonder how we bring comfort and support to family and friends during heartache and trials. How do we know if we are hurting or helping another? Will our advice or opinion give direction or will they resent it? Advice at the wrong time or our choice of words can be damaging to a relationship. With these questions I searched the internet and found, How to Comfort Hurting People and I made a list of suggestions taken from http://www.net-burst.net/help/counsel.htm.
- Think the best of people. See them in the best possible light. People under pressure can explode at the slightest additional pressure. If you happen to add that tiny extra pressure, don’t take the explosion personally. Do not feel badly about the person or about yourself for what happened.Hold your friend in high regard and know that it is the pain talking, not the real person.
- Listen intently. Eye contact can reinforce the person’s awareness that you are interested in what they are saying. Be relaxed during times of silence. Perhaps give a reassuring smile or squeeze the person’s hand. Don’t feel pressured to fill the silence with chatter. Have confidence in the comforting power of simply being there. Feel their pain, be thrilled with their triumphs and enjoy their jokes.
- Regard tears as being as natural as breathing.Give a reassuring squeeze of the hand or by some other means show that you are relaxed about any emotion that is displayed. Assure the person tears are fitting and nothing to be ashamed of.
- Gently probe.Asking an occasional question shows genuine interest. By asking appropriate questions you confirm that you really want to know and that they are not imposing on you. Of course, there are people on the other extreme who feel offended if asked, so we need to try to raise these matters with gentleness and sensitivity and in a manner in which the person can easily decline to answer without embarrassment.
- Look for a positive twist to the situation. If every cloud has a silver lining, hunt high and low for it. With great sensitivity, ease the person’s attention in that direction. However,don’t do this in a way that could seem like a put-down, such as giving the impression that they should have seen the silver themselves, or imply they should find the positive side comforting. Leave it to them to decide if it’s the slightest compensation for the pain they are experiencing.
- Every person is different. What worked wonders for others, could end in disaster despite your best intentions for another. The fact that some people recover or accept a situation far quicker than others can tempt us to give up on the slower ones. Human nature is complex and every person feels and reacts differently.
- Keep looking for feedback and signs as to adjustments needed in your approach.Not only is every person different, people’s needs change during the course of their ordeal. For instance, when tragedies first hit, a person is often overwhelmed with visitors and attention, but this tapers off until the person is left having to cope with the opposite extreme. Also, be mindful to not over-stay. Make it obvious that you are happy to stay, but ask now and then if they would prefer to be alone for a while or if they would you like to rest now.
- Don’t be a know-all. Avoid anything that could possibly give the impression of putting yourself above the person. When appropriate, briefly confess you own struggles.
- Consider practical help, such as shopping, housework, cooking.This may be a valuable way to help.
- Allow yourself time out to recharge.It is both loving and wise to ensure you have guilt-free fun times. This will do much to keep you primed for doing your utmost in supporting the person. Be mindful, the person might not be in the mood for hearing you describe your fun.
All of us at one time or another will experience grief and devastation. What helps you get through your heartaches? How hard was it to let others in and to accept help? Your comments are appreciated.