How Family & Friends Can Help
Have I not wept for the one whose life is hard? Was not my soul grieved?
When cancer takes up residence in a home, caring friends and extended family members often want to help, but don’t know how. If you find yourself in such a situation, the following suggestions may help your encouragement touch the hurting hearts of not just one person, but the whole family.
Remember the ripple rule! Like the impact of a stone plunging into a pond, the impact of cancer on a patient ripples out and touches every member of the patient’s family. A sensitive encourager will not only seek to encourage the patient but will follow the ripple out and encourage the spouse, the children, the parents—everyone in its path. Instead of sending greeting cards exclusively to the patient, for example, you may want to consider addressing a card to the whole family or sending individual cards to each family member.
Make contact. A surprising number of would-be encouragers never take the first step toward establishing appropriate communication. When cancer comes home, few family members have the energy to seek out encouragers. So commit yourself to con-tacting the family and making yourself available. If you don’t know every family member well, begin by expressing care for the member you do know. You can send a card, make a phone call, or prepare a treat for the family to enjoy. If you know only a child in the family, you could express your awareness of the family situation to one of the parents and ask how he or she would like you to encourage that child.
Offer to be a sounding board. Cancer patients and their families are on a roller coaster ride of emotions. At times they are caught unaware by a burst of anger, sorrow, or fear. A safe, available person who can listen well when a patient’s spouse, parent, or child needs to “let off steam” is a strong support for a family dealing with cancer. Someone who gives the freedom for family members to express their feelings in a safe, loving setting will help them work through the many feelings that can be troubling their hearts.
Remember, it’s usually more important to listen than to speak. Guard against making judgments about what is said. Instead, share supportive, life-giving words. The Bible has some good suggestions:
- Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. – James 1:19
- Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. – Romans 12:15
- Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. – Colossians 4:6
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. . . . Love is patient, love is kind. . . .It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-8
Recognize the family’s spiritual needs. The well members of a cancer patient’s family, particularly the primary care giver, need spiritual strength to walk in God’s wisdom, discernment, and peace on a daily basis. And in the midst of their struggle, family members may go through a difficult period of questioning God — His goodness, faithfulness, or love for them. So pray for the family’s spiritual needs as well as the emotional and physical ones. Consider providing a prayer partner for each family member. You could also send a devotional book, a new Bible, or a book of encouragement.
Just do it! It’s all too easy to say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.” No matter how sincere the offer, a family that is dealing with cancer may not have the energy to take you up on it. You may be able to offer greater support if you call and say, “I’m going to the store. What can I pick up for you?” or “We’re going to the park, would your children be able to go with us?” There may well be other daily or weekly tasks, such as providing transportation or meals, that you can commit to providing.