[guestpost]During my years of illness and recovery, one of the women who faithfully stepped into my life in practical and encouraging ways was Sarah Beckman. Sarah has walked through hardship and serious illness with a number of friends, and she has learned the secret to loving those who suffer—something that’s not easily done. That’s why I’m thrilled to announced the release of Sarah’s new book Alongside: A Practical Guide To Loving Your Neighbor In Their Time of Trial. If you’ve ever agonized over how to help a hurting friend, Alongside will help. I had the honor of reading an early copy (and writing the foreword) and can testify that it is both thorough and spot-on. Today, I’ve asked her to write a guest post to give you a sample of the wisdom hidden inside the pages of Alongside. Please welcome my friend, Sarah Beckman. [/guestpost]
During the five years my best friend Kelley battled cancer, we had an unspoken agreement to walk on Wednesdays. On the track or treadmill, in the neighborhood or around the lake, at the hospital or at the gym, if it was Wednesday, we walked.
In the same years Kelley endured extensive cancer treatments I underwent four back surgeries. Our circumstances affected our ability to walk on any given Wednesday. But the beauty was on display in our willingness to do whatever it took to help the other continue.
Ways to show respect to a friend in need
When a friend faces long-term illness or health trials, it is important that we find the best ways to support them. What I learned from my own and Kelley’s health challenges was how essential it is to respect a friend’s journey—by remaining focused on her circumstance and how we can best walk alongside her through it.
Depending on the particular trial, there are several ways to show respect for a friend in the midst of their hardship.
Honor their privacy. Sadly, I learned the importance of this the hard way. Kelley’s fight was a long one, and she faced many setbacks. Maintaining communication with our very involved community-at-large was an exhausting, but necessary, task. Therefore, I often posted on Caring Bridge, updated the prayer chain, or organized things on their behalf.
One of the times Kelley faced a setback, after receiving the news I went on autopilot and shared it on the prayer chain as I’d done many times before.
When she called me soon after, I immediately knew something was wrong. Not one to be dramatic, she simply said, “I wished you hadn’t shared this on the prayer chain. I wasn’t ready for people to know yet.” I had done the unthinkable. In the hardest time of my friend’s life, I wounded her and robbed her of what little control she did have—if and when she would share her own business.
I apologized, and she forgave me. But I learned a valuable lesson that day: Don’t hijack your friend’s privacy by talking about their illness or circumstance with other people unless you have express permission to do so.
Ask their permission. This is essential, especially if you’re in a position where others are turning to you for information or ways to help. If I had asked Kelley’s permission before sharing on the prayer chain I could have easily avoided disappointing and hurting my friend.
Areas to seek permission include visiting, sharing private information, putting their name on anything (race/benefit/fundraiser), changing their schedule, caring for kids, making plans for them, or even offering medical advice.
More people have been adversely affected by unwanted medical advice than you can imagine. Well meaning folks have undermined a friend’s treatments and added more angst to an already stressful situation. Another adverse effect of offering unsolicited medical advice is guilt. When you say, “if you went to this doctor or had this treatment you’d be better off,” it’s demoralizing and unhelpful. By simply asking if they want any outside help or advice on the topic and letting them choose, you avoid burdening your friend with unwanted information.
Maintain their dignity. People in crisis face an altered sense of who they are, which is sometimes short-lived, but other times it’s forever. Many people told me, “I want to be treated as a person, not an illness.” If you treat them like your charity case, or indicate that you only care about them because they’re ill or in need, they can feel worthless or resentful. Pity is an unwelcome guest when you’re in the middle of a crisis.
People want to be loved for who they are, not because of their circumstance.
Nourish normal. For many people facing significant trial it’s like moving to another country instead of visiting it for a week. While it’s good to be helpful and sensitive, it’s also important to treat them as you otherwise would. When you promote routine, they might adjust more easily to living in their strange new world.
Invite them to dinner just like you would if their loved one wasn’t sick. Ask them to do things you’ve always done together, coffee, movies, dinner, concerts, workouts, book club socializing after word. Better to give them the opportunity to say no rather than assuming they can’t do something. If they’re hospitalized, and you always went out for Tuesday coffee, take the coffee to them instead.
Before your friend’s life changed, they were someone else, so don’t make the mistake of defining them solely by their trial. Nourish normal wherever possible and the person you care about will be grateful you didn’t make it about such and such —at least for today.
[reminder]How has someone shown respect to you during a time of need? Leave a comment to be entered to win Sarah Beckman’s new book Alongside: A Practical Guide for Loving Your Neighbor in Their Time of Trial. I’m giving away FIVE COPIES plus a GRAND PRIZE to one lucky Alongside winner: A collapsable ThirtyOne bag for your deliveries to hurting friends! DEADLINE TO ENTER is March 14, 2017. [/reminder]