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Words to Live by: You Got This!

At the end of life, there are some words that stick out more than others and some can be extremely helpful while others are overwhelmingly hurtful.  Words have a way of providing comfort just when we needed to hear them the most, or they can send us over the edge, tumbling further into the despair that made its entrance at the time of diagnosis.

And, one thing I have discovered in working with the bereaved is that words that are helpful to some may prove to incite hurt or anger in others.  Perhaps that is one of the reasons why grief support is so difficult because the reality is that people truly don’t know what to say in order to be helpful, words often failing them or finding themselves speaking sentences or phrases that obviously miss the mark.  For example, a recent conversation with a family explored the following words, “You’re doing a good job.”  Some caregivers, in taking care of their loved ones crave that kind of feedback.  They absolutely need to know that what they are doing is right and having their feelings validated can give them just the energy they need to keep going.

On the other hand, a different perspective- anger and frustration towards those who tell them these things, stating “Taking care of my family member is not a job.  Going to work every day is a job, but being right here, present with my loved one- that will never be a “job” and it hurts when people say those things.”  Additionally, it should be noted that these feelings can also change from moment to moment, which again leaves people struggling with how to be supportive or helpful during this very sensitive time.

I cannot stress enough the importance of continuing to be present or seek cues from our friends and family to find ways to be helpful.  Being careful of our words is definitely something we should all be mindful of, but it isn’t something we should avoid altogether.  Communication at end of life is often the glue that keeps us all together and expressing feelings or wishes, or unburdening our hearts with words that had been left unspoken can be extremely powerful and healing.  From those who have been there and experienced loss, they will tell you to keep trying, to be persistent but not overbearing.  They ask that you listen and validate and not show up to give advice or tell you what to do or how you should be doing it.  As a counselor, I am always looking for new words or phrases that can be helpful and supportive, and listening to those who are currently walking the path is the best way to know and find that understanding- that intimate knowledge shared from the heart of those who have been broken and are in search of healing.

Never forget words of encouragement, even if they are rejected or seen as unhelpful because at some point on down the road, we may all find ourselves in need of those words of wisdom, the guide that will surely help us down the path of darkness back into the nurturing light of hope.