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Offering a Willing Ear

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 20 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Grieving Process Listening And Grief

Mention the words “terminal illness” or “death” and instantly, many people become quite uncomfortable. The intensely emotional aspect of such concepts can make some people shy away from discussions, but for those who are suffering from serious illness or are close to someone who is dying, what they may need most in the world are caring friends who are able to offer a wiling ear.

Receiving Bad News

At the delivery of unwelcome news, such as that of a terminal diagnosis, many people feel the need to reach out to those closest to them for reassurance and comfort. Unfortunately, such news is apt to frighten others, too, and they may not know just how to react or to offer meaningful help. If at all possible, though, friends and family members should try to set aside their own discomfort in order to help their loved one to express their feelings. Usually, they are not looking for someone to solve their problems, but simply the reassurance that comes from knowing that they are not alone.

What Not to Say

Sometimes, when people are hesitant to offer comfort to a frightened or grieving loved one, it is because they are uncertain as to what they should say. Offering hands-on help is always a good idea, as is letting the person know that although you wish you could make things better, you are always available for them. Knowing that someone cares is possibly the greatest gift that the terminally ill and those nearest to them can receive. While offering a wiling ear is a kind gesture, there are things that loved ones should avoid saying, including:

  • ”I know how you feel.” Unless you have experienced exactly the same thing it is doubtful that you know how someone else feels.
  • ”He/she is in a better place.” The grieving may or may not agree, but in any case, their current focus is on their loss.
  • ”You are being so brave.” Dealing with a terminal diagnosis can be frightening and overwhelming. It is alright for those in this position to feel weak and uncertain.
  • ”Think of all that you have to be grateful for.” That’s not at all how it feels for someone who will soon or has just lost a loved one.
  • ”You need to get on with your life.” Grieving is a very individual process and each person must take the time that they need to find peace and acceptance.

When to Seek Help

Friends and loved ones can provide invaluable comfort to those who are terminally ill and those who are either caring for a dying person or who have recently lost someone close to them. Grieving is bound to have a profound effect, but there are situations that require professional intervention. Signs of extreme depression, including a sadness that doesn’t lift with time, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, or continued social isolation may indicate the need for help. Any talk of suicide must not be ignored and should be brought to the attention of other family members immediately.

Loneliness can be closely associated with illness and dying; even perfectly decent people may sometimes refrain from reaching out to grieving loved ones due to their own discomfort, yet in times of extreme stress, the caring presence of loved ones can help with the healing process. When in doubt, friends and relatives can help by simply sitting beside someone who is struggling and saying,”I’m here for you.”

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