In Search of a Life Raft


Photo by Rodney Young (Fireman USCGC Chase)

I often feel alone. Grief and loss seem to be solitary, deeply internal processes, no matter how many people are sharing your experience. Maybe that’s why, despite my deep gratitude for our family and friends, I remain seeking comfort that never comes; it is an impossible need.

His family and friends, and even his former clients, so many good people, have rushed to our aid without our asking. They have filled in our gaps with such grace, consideration, and compassion, the saints themselves could do no better. It is their goodness that keeps me afloat, even if some part of my grief seems immune to community.

If you should find yourself, in some not so distant future, called upon to be a support for a family with a terminally ill member, follow their good example. Remember these golden rules:

1. Don’t give advice unless asked.

The family is intimately connected to the fate of their dying loved one.  They have had 100% of the contact with physicians, nurses, staff, relatives, children, etc. You have not. When they call to vent or talk, more than likely, they’re not asking you to fix their problems. There is no fixing it. Just listen.

2. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

I understand the desire to be helpful. It’s noble to want to be there for someone in their time of need, but making an offer of help that you cannot fulfill causes stress and increases their suffering. Don’t offer ANYTHING – a call, a favor, an errand – that you will not provide as agreed on the date and time specified. A grieving family has enough to juggle without waiting for help that never comes.

3. Don’t make it about you.

Listen to the family and what they need. Don’t vent to them about how this situation affects you. All venting should pour out from the epicenter (the terminally ill patient and their family).

4. Please be patient.

Be the person who can see the pain at the source of our anger, our sadness, our withdrawing, and stand fast by our side through the storm. A friend who can do that is life itself.

I know who my life rafts are.