Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What do you say to the suffering?

There is a lot of cancer in my life lately. A childhood friend died of cancer this last summer. Another childhood friend is caring for her husband right now as he goes through chemo. One of my mission comps, her older brother just started treatments.

All of this cancer has not caused the reflection that you might expect. All this cancer has not made me think about the next life or where we go; rather my biggest frustration has to do with what to say to these people that I care about.

There seemed to be power behind the words, “I am praying for you.” It is a way of conveying to that person that you are legitimately concerned and are appealing to a higher power on their behalf. You are adding your faith and prayers to so many others and there is the hope and belief that perhaps if enough people are praying for something things may improve due to the added faith.

I find that I can no longer say that, “I am praying for you.” The closest I can come is to express my concern or say something along the lines, “You are in my thoughts.” This and similar comments just don’t feel like enough. 

I think that action can show how you feel but when you are too far away to hug, help and serve what do you say? 


  1. How about just saying "I am here for you if you need anything even if it's just someone to talk to" -A.J.

  2. I find myself saying the same things.

    As far as what you can *do*...maybe write a handwritten letter and let them know you've been thinking about them and remind them of memories you share?

    If you have the money, it might help those who are suffering with issues such as chemo to mail with a note a gift card to a restaurant so they don't have to worry about dinner one night.

    Or if there's a gift you can think of that would be intimate and show your affection. Anything personal, anything uplifting, anything to let them know they're not totally alone.

    A semi-regular phone call might be good, just to let them talk. Sometimes it's good to listen only, and sometimes I find people just want to be distracted and talk about irrelevant things.

    This is a good post, something I think most of us could use to think about. I can.

    With that said, you and yours are in my thoughts <3

  3. It is always hard to know what to do or say in these kinds of situations. I am trying to think about what I valued when I was going through my whole "coming out" period. I refer to that time in my life because it was probably the most devastating, incapacitating struggle I have had to deal with.

    Looking back, it wasn't specific words that helped me. It was knowing that people were concerned and interested. Just them wanting to be with me through that meant a lot. If you can't be there physically, I would think that your continued concern would mean a lot. Checking up on how things were going, being someone that they feel comfortable talking to about the hard things they are experiencing. Be an active, listening ear with a caring heart that can empathize.

    Personally, that means a lot more to me than someone saying "you'll be in my prayers" and then never hearing from them until we run into each other again. Also, if I am to trust them with my challenges, I like to feel like they can trust me with theirs.

    Cancer sucks. It has affected many in my extended family as well. But I guess we shouldn't stop seeking to enjoy life in the face of something like that. All our interactions don't need to reflect an anticipation for death. All our words don't need to sound like "I'm so sorry, that must be hard." We can still be positive about the good things in life.

    Anyway, that was longer than I anticipated. It's a tough thing.

  4. @ A.J. and Lisa - I really like the idea of just offering to be a listening ear. I also really like the giftcard idea. It kind of makes me laugh a bit giving a giftcard to a restaurant - long distance way of taking in a meal. It feels so Mormon.

    @ Gay Mormon - I would be that in some ways being positive about the good things would probably be a welcomed distraction. You are right. So often it is just nice to know someone is there.

  5. haha, what can i say. sigh.

    takes a while to get the mormon out. you're right, though. offering an active ear would be best. <3

  6. You be honest.

    I've lost a couple of people close to me from cancer, most notably my dad. When he was sick, people mainly asked, how sick is he, what kind of cancer is it, is he in a lot of pain, and when's he gonna die. Those are the *wrong* things to say. They express morbid curiosity, but not empathy.

    After he died, one woman--a bona fide grownup--said, "I know just how you feel, my cat died". A girl I went to school with told me, "I know just how you feel, my dog died". Those were also the wrong things to say. Telling someone how to feel--however it's couched, whether in idiotic truisms like this, or in more flowery language, is judgmental and stupid. Don't do that, either.

    The best thing anyone said to me, actually, was one of my best girlfriends said, "I can't empathize, but I can sympathize. I'm so grateful for my parents, and I can't imagine how I'd feel if anything ever happened to them. I can, however, provide a listening ear whenever you need it and be here for you 100%".

    That was the right thing to say.

    I think what most people forget, in situations like this, is it's not about you. Nobody's waiting for you to say the perfect, brilliant thing. In fact, nobody's waiting for you to say anything at all. They're waiting for you to DO.

    I don't remember who sent me a note after my dad died; I don't remember who said what, really, unless they said something really horrible. But what I DO remember is who showed up. I remember who brought food, who came over when I was lonely, who was there when it counted.

    Bottom line: it's easy to be nice, when it doesn't really matter. What separates the men from the boys is whether you're there when things suck. Most people aren't. They look for proof that you "want" to talk, or say, "I'll come back when you're fun again".

  7. Thank you C.J. That is really useful.

  8. When my mom found out she had cancer, I was a teenager. I was surprised by how many of my close friends avoided me and were awkward when they did talk to me about it. I had a lot of friends, but only 2 said anything about it and one of them did so in a card. I say that only 2 did anything and I think the wrong tone came through with that statement. I was very grateful for those two who did. I was hurt and confused by my friends' inability to know how to deal with the topic of cancer, but my mom explained it to me that they just didn't know what to say. She told me to let it be a lesson to me and to know that there is not a right thing to say and that just saying anything is huge and means a lot. She told me to not be hurt by those who seemed to ignore me and the situation because they did care but just didn't know how to tell me. She always gave people the benefit of the doubt and said that people were good and tried to do the right thing. When even more friends dropped off the face of the earth for a few months after she died, I tried to remember her words. I also try to remember her words when friends go through hard times. I remember that she said it's important to just say something and that I care. I'm not going to know the magic words to make them feel better but at least they will know that I'm in their corner and care.

    Just last week I thanked a close friend for traveling 8 hours to my mom's funeral. It was years ago and she had completely forgotten she went. She was surprised I remembered and that it meant much to me. It meant a lot and helped me to realize what a close friend she was over the years. I don't know why I never thanked her before or why it came up then and there last week, but I she said she was happy to know that her support meant something to me. It really did. I try not to do this, but it's hard not to count the friends who were really there for me as my truest friends. It's really unfair of me because my other friends were most likely just as true and loyal, but just didn't know what to say. Thank goodness I never wrote any of the ones who just ignored the whole thing off because they are amazing people too--just people who have learned different stuff in life than others.

    And now I'm officially done blog stalking you for the day! I really love your blog because you really have something to say and say it in a way that makes me feel like commenting. So sorry for taking over your blog tonight! :-o

  9. Instead of saying that I'm praying for them, I just say that I'm sending very warm and happy thoughts their way or that I have been meditating about them and their situation and want to let them know I care. Even though it sounds pretty hippy and Pagan (I'm kind of a hippy), if it's a fellow hippy friend, I'll tell the friend that I lit a candle for him or her and then sent them positive energy that I hope the Universe will manifest for them somehow. It might just be easier to lie and say I prayed. ;-) Ha. But isn't that really a big part of what praying for people does? It takes some time out to think about that person and hope that they get better or have peace and kindness in thier lives. It's just semantics I think. I feel that meditating and caring and praying about someone are somewhat interchangable. It all means something and it's all a testiment of how beautiful life is and the relationships we have in our life. It's caring and it's love and that's what matters.

    I'm very sorry to hear about the loss and cancer in your life. You sound like a good friend to put thought into the right way to help people dealing with these more difficult aspects of life. I'm sure they appreciate it. I hope they heal or find peace.

    K. Now I really am done blog stalking you for the day and putting off my work.

  10. Don't worry about "stalking" the blog. I appreciate the comments and the advice. I'm not a fan of fair-weather friends myself but I do understand that a lot of people probably do just pull back for fear of not knowing what to say. After reading your comment and C.J.'s comments I think I will just let them know they can call me and that I am thinking of them. Maybe when I am in Utah I will touch base.


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