April 2011 Newsletter – Walk In My Shoes

At the April 1st Saint Joseph Hospital Community Resource Fair discussions with people who stopped at my table were as varied as the people who roamed the tables which touted services and literature.

Conversation ranged from our culture’s inability to discuss end-of-life to organ donation. One woman said she was saving old medication and sleeping pills for the time she deems her self ready to go. Another told me how helpful her church was by carrying copies of The Five Wishes to inspire congregants to consider their choices and finalize them with loved ones and legal counsel.  Many people prefaced their comments with “…when the time comes,” or “… if I were diagnosed with …  I would….”  Do we ever really know what we would do?

Often we just don’t know what choices we might make unless we were actually in that place…walking a mile in those shoes. These questions come to mind when dire news is shared to us by a friend. When someone else is facing their worse nightmare scenario, what experience do we have to draw upon which might enable us to offer valid comfort.

There is nothing more disheartening when confiding to someone than to have them jump in and respond with, “Oh, I know just how you feel….”  Most of the people who say this actually have no idea how the other person is feeling, and they usually haven’t listened long enough to get a real sense of what the first person is trying to share.

Remarks such as, “You shouldn’t feel that way,” or “What you should do is… ,” may diminish the validity of the speaker’s true feelings. Consequently, the speaker may feel that they are not entitled to the emotions that they have just confided to you, and will now refrain from sharing openly.

Listeners sometimes depend on using clichés to comfort, or to create closure for the conversation in a way that appeases the visitor. The freedom to openly communicate helps to meet the expressive needs of participants, while providing an opportunity for consoling in a nurturing way.

We can lean too heavily on conversations about “fighting this thing” or “beating this disease.” It’s so important to provide a safe environment which allows our friend or loved one to open up about their fears. We need to be able to demonstrate that we are capable of being good listeners so they can voice their inner most concerns, and so they can say what needs to be said.

Our friends and our loved ones are entitled to the space of consciousness to process this immense transformation, and they look to those who are caring for them, and who love them, to stand with them through this preparation.