Last week, I was sitting in the exam room with a young woman undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. ‘How are you?’ The existential question which has no real answer. How IS one after facing one’s mortality? Grieving the loss of a healthy body sends one through a whirlwind of emotions, changing daily from denial, bargaining, anger to sadness. Well-intended friends and family unknowingly try to bolster support by encouraging a fighting attitude or offer unsolicited advice on nutrition and lifestyle changes.
If your loved one is dealing with an illness, it is my intention to help shed light on the process of grief and how you can help them through this journey. Every person’s experience is unique and we start by honoring the person as an individual. Be present without judgment, and refrain from offering unsolicited advice that may incite resentment or guilt. Let’s start with offering our love.
Unconditional love. The center of what we all seek. Put energy behind your intention to love someone. In order to do this well, you will need to know how your loved one likes to be loved. A wonderful book, ‘The five love languages’ by Dr. Chapman suggests we all like to be loved in the same manner we treat others. There will be dark days, times where being happy and upbeat is difficult. Be patient. Put your ego aside and allow for them to process their feelings. Be a good listener. Allow your loved one to feel heard, remember it is about them. Try not to interject with your own experiences and needs. Laughter is the best medicine. Not all conversations need to start and finish with their disease. Pay attention to what they value, every person may appreciate different acts of kindness.
- Words of affirmation like ‘I love you’ and compliments may carry a lot of weight for some people. They feel validated with words. Use them daily to show them that they are loved. Leave them love notes and handwritten messages that will bring them up. Also, hateful words or disparaging remarks cuts them more than anything you can do. Avoid unnecessary arguments, remember the most important thing is their well being and not winning an argument.
- Quality time and your undivided attention may be what your loved one likes to receive. Being there for them is crucial. The worst thing that hurts your loved one may be excuses with postponed events, the failure to listen or distractions. When you make a commitment, be present. With technology today, we passively communicate online through social media, texting or emails. Even when together, we find ourselves on our phones, engaged in a virtual world instead of the real one. The loss of face-to-face interactions erodes the fabric of connectivity, blunting real love and compassion. Make the time to look into their eyes, sit and really listen to them.
- Receiving gifts, mementos, thoughtful presents may make a person feel loved. This does not have to be expensive gifts or trips. A thoughtful remembrance of their likes and dislikes and taking the time to provide them with an item can be a treasure for your loved one. These gifts can be hand-made or something you own and have no other value than the love you put into it.
- Acts of service shows your loved one that they are valued. You recognize how hard it has been for them. You show them you really care by lending a hand because actions speak louder than words. This may be preparing a meal, watching their kids or pets, taking them to doctor’s appointments or running their errands. They may be givers themselves and have a low tolerance for ‘takers’ -people who make more work for them and unwilling to help them or let them down with broken promises. Fulfilling their daily needs and making their life a little easier will ease their stress and make you shine in their eyes.
- Physical touch like a hug or touching their hand can make them feel safe and loved. This may also be a gift of giving a massage, pedicure or a facial. Creating a physical connection maybe how you can validate their importance in your life. During a time of physical illness, intimacy may not be desired and remembering to maintain boundaries and respecting their wishes without guilt or judgment is also a show of love.
Grief from illness is a journey that one cannot go around, ignore or evade. It is necessary to walk through it, one day at a time with the support of the people around us. Sometimes, one may be surprised at the lack of response from our closest relatives and friends. But other times, support is received from the most unlikeliest sources. To best serve your relative, friend, neighbor, co-worker or acquaintance who may be suffering in silence, find a way to reach out in a meaningful way to show them love. We all belong to the same fabric of energy and love is how we weave our connection.