Helping To Ease The Pain
You certainly might be able to imagine another person’s pain, but frankly how you perceive it is meaningless to the person who is suffering. That’s why doctors and surgeons have such a difficult time in managing the physical pain of patients who are suffering from events, ranging from a simple surgery to the all consuming aggressive forms of cancer, that slowly eat away from within. Doctors can only compare you with all the other patients they’ve dealt with – much like dealing with an actuarial table from a life assurance company.
There are so many different types of pain. From all the patients I’ve had the honour to sit with, who move through varying degrees of expressing their suffering, be it a quiet rhythmic whimpering, to screaming with agony just before their body surrenders its life force, it is profoundly clear how deeply personal our pain is.
There are those who suffer excruciating pain, not only of the physical type, but of the emotional as well: ask any loving parent who has a child in hospital. We would do anything to take that pain upon ourselves – and we do, often ten-fold. It is that suffering we witness that often calls us to either question or bargain with God.
And there are those who are suffering the emotional and spiritual pain of loss or failure. It’s often seen most vividly at a point where the sufferer knows their life is ending, but their spirit still struggles to rectify whatever it may be they feel they’ve done wrong; perhaps a failed relationship, a wrong they committed upon a spouse or family member, or even an unfulfilled promise they may have made.
The great Anglican author C.S. Lewis, sought to find goodness through suffering. He felt there was a divine purpose in the experience of pain, often saying “How true it is that glory so often comes through suffering and pain.”
Some simple thoughts to consider in order to avoid placing the proverbial foot in one’s mouth are:
Try simple thoughts of love and support. You needn’t be a Rhodes Scholar. Holding the hand of your loved one or friend creates a powerful connectivity and is a profoundly personal gesture of care and love. Ask if there is anything you may do to assist, is there anyone they would like for you to contact, letters you may write on their behalf. In fact, ask if it’s ok for you to speak with others about them. Some people see their suffering as sacrosanct and not to be a topic of discussion with anyone!
Don’t be so crass as to meet with someone when they’ve first been diagnosed with cancer, saying how great they look! That’s a very common faux pas and can actually be quite insulting. How should the person look? It’s almost as if you’ve willed them to drop the façade they’ve spent days to create, because you want to see them suffer! And don’t forget, just because someone has been diagnosed with cancer, doesn’t mean that it’s terminal.
Don’t automatically assume that someone will lose their hair if they’re taking chemotherapy. I’ve actually had to pull a couple away from a large gathering around a bed, of someone who was struggling with their chemo because I, (and I was certain the patient too), could hear this couple loudly whispering about whether the patient was wearing a wig. What caused my arm to instantly reach out for the couple was when the woman whispered to her husband that it 'didn’t even look as if the patient was dying, she looked so well!'
It is during these challenging times when both sufferer and carer alike can find the most powerful form of communication and medicine in one. It has always been there, all you need to do is ask.
That is through the power of prayer.