Feeling physical, emotional or mental pain is consuming and draining. Having a positive attitude towards the different burdens and challenges of life is not easy, at least not for everybody. Sometimes, you can’t but be focused on that pain. Since Lynn was diagnosed with Erythromelalgia, I got random advice, some are good and some are not so good. It’s during such challenging times that you truly learn who are the people who really love you and want to support you. And don’t be shocked when suddenly your circle of friends and family, shrinks and gets smaller with time. But to the people who truly want to be supportive and helpful, but might be at loss of words or ideas, I say this: Measure your words and actions wisely and sensitively.
The most provocative of all advice to me is when a friend or a family member has nothing to say but “count your blessings” and then silence. Another one is, “ be grateful”, followed by silence again. That’s it! Seriously, that’s your big advice! You can’t just drop those words on a person who was just diagnosed with a rare disease. You can’t say that to someone terminally ill. And certainly not to a mom of a special needs child who is having a huge meltdown in the supermarket. Those are not the words someone would want to hear when they just got an amputation or just lost a loved one or barely made it out alive from a war zone. There has to be something more appropriate to say or even do. The awesome people who have been supportive to Lynn and myself inspire the following tips. They are our blessing and to them we are grateful.
1- Be sensitive when offering advice. Let it be meaningful and out of your own experience and not just a repetition of cliché words.
2- Be patient enough to learn how to become one of their blessings.
3- Be their advocate. Be informed and learn about whatever they are facing.
4- This is about their pain. Don’t belittle their suffering. Acknowledge their pain, and please, just please, don’t try to convince them that you or someone you know has got it worse. This is not a competition.
5- Sometimes, the least you can do is be a listener or you can just offer them a shoulder to cry on.
6- Don’t give up on them, even when they don’t answer your calls or texts. Keep trying. Let them know you are thinking of them.
7- Offer your skills. Cook for them, babysit their kids, drive them somewhere, be with them at their next doctor’s appointment or do their supermarket shopping. Never underestimate such small acts of kindness.
8- Allow them to grieve and when the time is right, help them take a step back to have a different perspective. When someone is aching, they are mostly focused on that pain and it’s a vicious cycle that creates more pain. You can offer to take them out, or bring up something new to their attention. Be a distraction.
9- Offer them a gift, no matter how small or symbolic. Everybody loves unwrapping gifts; it’s guaranteed to put a smile on their face. Maybe you can even write them a poem or dedicate a song to them.
10- Show them that their pain doesn’t define them by making them feel useful and important. Involve them in your life by asking them for their opinion or advice.