It probably sounds WEIRD, but it does makes sense: If you want to know how to effectively help someone in need of emotional/spiritual support, learn how to do so at the bedside of someone who is dying. Perhaps that seems a little bit radical, but that is where I received the very best lessons on how to provide good, meaningful care to those who still have their lives before them. I had learn a tremendous amount of knowledge about pastoral care while I was in seminary, but it didn't compare to the practical, hard-nosed lessons I received from my many friends who were dying.
Think about it: During the process of dying, individuals are trying to deal with feelings of grief, loss, jealousy, guilt (usually a lot of that), fear and so on. They initially experience shock, they live a while in denial, then they get angry before trying to bargain their way back into life, until eventually they begin to accept the fact that they are dying. Some who have been long in their suffering even begin to embrace it.
Somewhat oddly perhaps, the loved ones who are there by their sides are dealing with the same process, only to a different degree and from a vastly different perspective. The death they are experiencing is the death of someone on the other side of a shared relationship. They too experience initial shock, find themselves unable acknowledge the reality of the situation, try to bargain with God (sometimes sacrificially offering their own life in place of their loved one's). They too struggle with anger, and guilt over the many things they should have done for their loved ones, and so on and so on; hopefully, to a point of acceptance.
These struggles, both looking ahead to life, and looking ahead to death, are staged on the battlefields of grief.
Consider the man who has just lost a long-held job, he grieves over the loss of known relationships, the loss of income, the loss of self-esteem. He begins in a state of shock, he cannot believe that he is actually experiencing this loss after so many years of self-sacrifice. He gets angry, he may try to bargain his way back into his position, he might feel guilty for not working harder, and so forth. The same battle which confront the person approaching death, only on a much, much smaller scale and from a different perspective.
How about the teenage boy who tried out for the football team and failed, or the young girl who just got ousted by the sorority she was pledging. Consider those unfortunate folks involved in divorce proceedings. Or to your old neighbor who is mourning the loss of his youth and vigor. Within all of these life-situations and many, many more, people are suffering and are hungering for the comfort of a loved one's meaningful support. Their problems are theirs to deal with; they carry weight. They are very real and significant to them.
What a wonder it is then, to discover that the same ways in which we provide meaningful care for the dying can, and do, work for the living.
OK, so what are those ways anyway?
It is my hope and purpose to teach anyone/everyone who is willing to follow this blog, many of the truths that I learned through my experiences in providing meaningful help to others. I will invariably refer to the methods that I used in dealing with those who were in the process of dying. Once you become familiar with those methods, you can easily use them to help just about anyone else.
I'll be honest and relate my failures as well as those of others. I'll not profess to be an expert. I am not. I was merely blessed with the opportunity to learn from firsthand experience.
Please come back and join me in what will be a process in itself. I cannot put this out there all in one blog or all at one time. But if you'll hang in there, I'll relate to you the lessons that I learned at the many bedsides and the numerous intensive care units, as well as at the kitchen tables and the picnic tables. See you soon.