Monday, September 27, 2010

Thoughts on how to "be there"

This advice is terrific. It was written by Lee Woodruff (wife to ABC News journalist Bob Woodruff) after her husband's near death in an Iraqi roadside bombing. As soon as I read it, I wanted to share them here. Lee now speaks to families in crisis, and helps direct their friends to the simple acts that are the most helpful when some one you love's world has been turned upside down.

Of course, the words resonated with me since I have been the one on the recieving end these past few years--excepting and heavily relying on friendship and encouragement to guide me thru overwhelming stress. I only hope someday, I'll be able to return the favor.

I'm going to condense them a bit, but here the list's the general idea:

"1. Don't Hang Back -- Make contact
Most people who haven't experienced a tragedy or serious illness at close range have no concrete idea of how best to approach the person who is suffering. They don't know exactly what to say or what to do. Everyone wants to get it just right, but it's frequently hard to gauge what is appropriate. Sometimes these emotions can be paralyzing. But it is crucial to not hang back: the bravest and most wonderful thing you can do is to be there for someone else, even if this takes you completely out of your comfort zone. It is essential to acknowledge what is happening. Call people or reach out when you learn they are ill or going thru a difficult time. Don't give up on them if they try at first to push you away.
When Bob was injured, I was surprised by some of the people who stepped into the void in amazing ways to help. In many cases, they were not necessarily the people I had expected. For the people in the vortex of the crisis it's important to keep in mind that just because some folks don't raise their hands to help doesn't mean they don't care. An inability to cope with what you're going thru could simply mean that friends are nervous or anxious about how best to approach you and tackle the situation.
2. Help them feel "normal"
When Bob was in his coma, one of the many fabulous gifts of help came from my friend Kitty. We were trying to convert family videos to DVD format to play in Bob's room so he could hear the children's voices, but we were having trouble. Kitty just showed up took the tapes, didn't ask pointed questions or demand information about Bob's condition. She told me about her kids and her husband. She entertained me with stories about her workplace. She just came and helped. Two days later the tapes arrived at the hotel desk all transferred onto DVD's.
My friend Colleen sent me a certificate for a massage, which I ultimately did use (even though I worried about Bob the whole time.) Rebecca arranged flowers near the bed, and organized and prioritized all the mail. She never asked me one prying question. Instead she waited til I was ready.
These simple, calming acts and my friends' way of treating me as "normal" were exactly the tonic I needed. In the midst of the tornado raging around my family, I loved it when people talked to me about their aging parents or the fact that their child needed glasses. My world was so unimaginable. I had lost the language of reciprocity. Sometimes when a person's life has changed so much, they want to hear what normal sounds like; they want you to treat them as if their world is just like it used to be.
3. Recognize the power of the human touch
Don't be afraid to make physical contact. Most illnesses or injuries are not contagious. Touches and hugs are one of the most healing things one person can do for another. Everybody wants to feel like a human being. A loss, illness, or injury gives people a sense of being exiled from the herd, so do whatever you can to make that person comfortable---overlook tubes and machines, get down on their level and look them right in the eyes-- just focus on that loved one or friend as an individual. Simple acts can go a long way toward restoring dignity.
4. Establish a healthy information exchange
This means three things: 1) Not demanding information from a patient or caregiver 2) Sharing information that may help and 3) Knowing what to keep to yourself.

When you're visiting someone going thru a difficult time, don't ask questions that make them recount the whole ordeal, the facts and statistics and the road ahead. They may not want to talk about it at all. Just take their lead when it comes to conversation. Resist the urge to share your own stories about similar illnesses or diseases. Many people think that comparisons are comforting or helpful, but these stories can actually be terrifying or insulting. More general expressions of support such as --"I know how hard this is because I watched my mother struggle with cancer"--may be a better way to let the person know that you understand some of what they are going thru. Ultimately, the best thing you can do is to simply listen to the person you wish to comfort. Be sure to let them know you are here whenever they need to talk, anytime. You don't always have to have a solution or good advice; sometimes people just need to unburden themselves, or simply say things out loud."

by Lee Woodruff from Perfectly Imperfect

#5-9 coming next......

No comments:

Post a Comment