Friday, December 4, 2009

Learning How to Just “Be There”

My wife's father is going through some serious health issues right now. I see my wife struggling with the feeling of helplessness that comes at a time like this. Today, she received more bad news and I wanted to be there for her. Unfortunately, I felt that not everything I was saying was helping. The frustration and discomfort I was feeling made me think of how my father handled these delicate situations.

My father had a gift; one that I do not possess. He could "be there for you." My dad spent a good deal of his non-working time visiting shut-ins or people in the hospital. On several occasions, I went with him to help perform some needed chores around the person's house while he or she recovered. The one thing that amazed me was his ability to "be there" without intruding. Many times, he would just sit there in the room without saying a word. At other times, he would be chattier than his usual self.

I asked him one time how he could just sit in a room with a person for over an hour and not say anything. He responded, "You do not always have to talk to carry on a conversation." At the time I did not have a clue what that meant.

He also said that often a person, especially someone with a serious illness, does not want to talk about it. They just want to know that you are there and praying for them. He felt you never really knew what was going to happen when you visited someone. It was important that you not "try to say the right words", "try to help" or "try to carry on a conversation." If they want to talk, they will talk. It is your job to be there for them in whatever role they need at the time.

Many a time I saw him just sitting next to someone's bed and holding his or her hand. At other times, I saw him kneel next to the person's bed and pray. More times than I care to remember, I saw him crying afterwards. One time after we left a person's house that was dying of cancer, I asked why he does this if it tears him up so bad. He said, "It is important that people know they are not alone especially when they will be leaving this world shortly." I then asked him how he knows what to say to give them comfort. He commented that he never really knew what to say until he was sitting with the person, but he had faith that the right words would be there when they were needed.

He also mentioned something that hit home much later in my life. "Never say that you know what a person is going through, because you don't."

I must try to incorporate some of my dad's thoughts into how I embrace these situations.

The dictionary defines "support" as: (1) to hold up or provide a foundation, (2) provide assistance to a person, (3) the act of helping to bear the weight or strengthening. Nowhere does this word mean, "to fix." My current mode of operation is to try to "fix" everything. Unfortunately, sometimes things cannot be fixed. I need to be more focused on supporting and empowering by just "being there for them."

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