Expressing Helpfully

Sunday Morning Musings:  Earlier this week I was asked by someone as to why many people found that speaking about death was so difficult.  In this particular incident the woman’s sister was dying and as she sat by her sister’s side she started wondering about death, death in general but her own in particular.  It was into this moment of her life that I was invited.

As I have said in previous writings, one’s primary job in such times is to listen.  I encouraged this person to talk about life and death.  Finding the process difficult at first, she was able to get past her hesitation (fears?) and talk.  In the end she was grateful for the opportunity to express views that she had kept inside for fear of being judged in one way or another.  For various reasons it is difficult for most to speak of dying and death even when we know rationally that death is part of living, part of life.

When I first began this week’s musing I wanted to write about the importance of saying the right things, or knowing when not to say what we are feeling.  When another discussion centred on death, it wasn’t problematic for me to find a connection.  (I realize this may be my own bias.)

Firstly, I will state that every one of us will be confronted with what we learn and term as “unpleasant” situations. The real concern becomes how we respond.  Over maybe the last 40 years or so, educators have tried to summarize the human experience around grief.  The heart will always be slower than the head when it comes to this type of loss.  We know death will occur, we know death has occurred but there is always part of us that will reject that knowledge (or at least try to).  We likely will also feel the anger of that loss (even hearing of an illness) and need to express what some describe as “rage”.   Many of us remember the lines from the poem by Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

We are told that we should not keep this rage bottled up inside.  This is true, but when and where we choose to express these feelings are every bit as important.  If I am going to be a helpful caregiver I need to be present, but I cannot let my needs overshadow the other person’s needs.  I remember a fellow being very angry with me.  I went to visit him and heard him tell his mother that he didn’t want to see me.  My ego was hurt – why wouldn’t he want to see me? A whole range of feelings (selfish ones) started to flood me, until the better part of me kicked into gear and I was able to remind myself that it wasn’t about me.

With the increase of “social media” it has become even more important for us to use our words wisely.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t say things, but when and what and why and how and even where our feelings are expressed are even more important.  I have heard it said that if I can’t say something kind that I should not say anything. Even if my words may be truthful, I must still be concerned about the other person or persons.

I love improv (improvisational) games because one the main tenets is to make the other person look and feel good about themselves.  This is also one of life’s greatest attributes for us all.  So we always need to ask ourselves how we can best do just that.

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