Walking with someone who is in pain

This is a very difficult post of me to write because whilst I think I have something important to say I fear that I am trespassing on the privacy of a friend. I also do not wish at all to elicit any sympathy for my own position – my burden is truly light by comparison. In as much as it is any burden at all I bear it most willingly and with great appreciation that I am trusted.

The husband of a very close friend is seriously ill at the moment. It has got me thinking about how to be a good companion in these circumstances.

I don’t know that I am getting it right but these are the guidelines I am using:

1. I trust that my friend has her husband’s back. She is providing the best care of him that she can. My role (in as much as I participate at all) is to attend to my friend.

2. I recognise that there is very little I can physically do to make her experience any easier right now.

In such circumstances, if we are to be useful we must undertake befriending our own sense of powerlessness. Trying to assuage our fear of lack of control by second guessing our companion’s choices is not helpful. If my sense of powerlessness is strange and confusing to me – my job is to find someone else (removed from the situation) to help me to deal with that. Otherwise the person in my friend’s position is burdened with caring for me too!

I am beginning to think that all I can offer is my willingness to be powerless and to trust that if something tangible is needed either I will see it, or she will ask me.

Most of us find confronting our own lack of control disorientating and frustrating. So we do all we can to avoid it. But in such cases our avoidance comes at tremendous cost for the person who is in pain. In our avoidance we leave our companion out in the cold alone whilst we hover around trying desperately to be useful.

If we cannot befriend our powerlessness we must understand that however generous our intentions we are probably adding to the burden, not mitigating it. The real pain of suffering is the inability to change anything. Until we confront that in ourselves we are not really walking alongside at all, we are merely spectators.

11 thoughts on “Walking with someone who is in pain

  1. Thank you, Mags. Your post is confirming a feeling I have. Befriending my powerlessness. And also not feeling responsible for a situation to which I am completely foreign…

  2. My husband suffered from Pethidine addiction for a number of years. After rehab he was clean for 6 months before succumbing and dying from an overdose. During that whole period I had no support, while trying to support my husband. All I needed was somebody to talk to who would not be judgmental, but also would not fuss. I needed a friendly (not professional) ear. Because I was too proud to ask, and because people do not WANT to see, I did not have that and on bad days I still struggle because of that.

    My advice would be to clearly indicate your desire to support her and ask her to be specific about her needs.

  3. This is a lovely reflection, and a beautiful recognition of limitation (very Ignatian) but you are not, actually, powerless. I have btdt more times than I care to count, on all sides.

    She needs a listening ear more than anything, probably accompanied by chocolate.

    Also: laundry done, bathrooms cleaned, cat litter emptied, basics bought – esp paper goods including toilet paper and paper goods, and some milk and soup and a few frozen dinners. Bananas last pretty long. Run errands– pick up dry cleaning, return library books.

    No announcements, no asking permission – just arrive, say what you’re there to do, do it, and leave. (Ask before you vacuum – that’s noisy!)(As opposed to nosy.)

    If there’s a dog, do not leave fresh food on the kitchen table. (A friend’s dog consumed several dozen cookies as her husband lay helpless upstairs.)

    I know this sounds intrusive. A few people might find it so. Most will notice only enough to feel intense relief, and never thank you adequately. And you won’t do things the way she would, but so what?

    She is unlikely to ask you. It’s far too exhausting to ask and organize other people; much easier to let everything fall down around you. But walking into a clean bathroom filled with fresh towels is like heaven after a day of illness and caretaking.

    Just some ideas. Prayer as you find your way around a new land.

  4. Wonderful blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m hoping to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you advise starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option?

    There are so many choices out there that I’m completely
    overwhelmed .. Any recommendations? Thank you!

    • Hi
      I would definitely go with a blogging site. This blog is a wordpress site but I paid to make sure I had my own domain name and that no advertising appeared on the blog. I have been happy with the investment – but it depends what you are blogging for and your financial position.

  5. Thank you for this insightful post Mags. I am trying to be there for these friends too and have to run a continuous self-check and make sure I’m not being too pushy. Being in the shadows is OK. She knows we are ready and waiting to help her and this has been a serious learning curve for me – dealing with the fact that I must be patient – they will call on us when they need us.

    It’s a difficult balance to strike. One doesn’t want to overcrowd but at the same time I don’t want her to think we’re not thinking of them or avoiding them.

    Your post have given lots to think about, thank you!

    • I’m glad you found it useful. I’m going with praying for grace and wisdom – hoping that I am able to notice what needs to be done! If we are all doing that, then hopefully she will get the support she needs.

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