I been thinking a lot about the best ways to being present when someone is seriously ill. As simple as it may seem, the key is to be present in ways that are most helpful to the person dealing with the health challenge. Everyone is different and what works for some people doesn’t work for everyone. And what works one day doesn’t necessarily work the following month…or it may!
Some people like to talk about their illness and others don’t. It is both complicated and simple but whatever we do we need to be authentic and thoughtful. All of us, at some point, will say something wrong. That’s part of life. Recognize it, own it, learn from it. The more we listen, the more we appreciate that we are there to be supportive (not offering advice unless asked), the more likely we will keep our feet out of our mouths.
We need to listen carefully, take cues from the people who are ill, and “be there” in whatever ways work at a specific time. The key is NOT to disappear.
We can ask the person as well as ourselves, “What is the best way to help right now?” Remember — needs change. The “right now” is important. Preparing and delivering dinner a few nights a week may be perfect for a few days, a few weeks, a few months. So might walking someone’s dog or watering their plants. Taking their kids to a movie or picking them up from school can give relief both to the person who is ill as well as their caregiver, and the kids get to have a different experience.
Laughing helps. So does crying. Often within the same 5 minutes. Ya just never know. But if we are “there,” really “there,” we’ll know what’s right…for now.