I recently listened to a podcast by Kate Bowler, a young mom and professor at Duke Divinity School who was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at age 35. In the podcast, Kate talks with a cancer survivor named Margaret Feinburg, a speaker and writer. I found myself laughing and tearing up during this interview, thinking about ways that we can support one another when we are hurting.
Margaret and Kate talk about how isolating long-term illness can be and how awkward the situations that accompany illness and medical treatment can make people feel. The greeting cards that they have received are symbolic of this awkwardness–with cards that range from cheery advice to sympathy cards (as if they had died)!
These wise women also reflect on how thankful they are for those friends and neighbors who continue to show support as the months go along instead of just reaching out at the beginning of a diagnosis.
We all long for the perfect words to tell people when they are hurting, whether they are going through medical treatment or struggling as caregivers. While we would love to say something that could fix everything, many times the best words are something like: “I’m so sorry. I love you, and I’m with you.”
Then we can ask people for specific ways that we can be helpful. May I stop through the drive-thru on my way to visit you at the hospital? Would you like a casserole, or would a gift card to the grocery store be better? Would you be up for a walk or a drive on Wednesday morning? Would it be helpful for me to contact specific people to give them updates? How can I help you best? And then, we can continue to show up after the 35th treatment, the discharge from the hospital, the long rehab, or the months of therapy.
What other suggestions do you have as a patient, a caregiver, or a friend who wants to show support? How can we support one another when we are hurting?