Monday, August 3, 2015
Words that Hurt, Words that Heal
Words that Hurt, Words that Heal In preparing for this series of articles, I did a painful review of comments made to persons suffering with cancer, those suffering loss of loved ones, and those facing end-of-life issues in hospice care. I suppose most people simply don’t know what to say, but seem to feel a need to say something to dispel the silence. Looking at a Biblical model for speaking to one suffering, I turn to the early chapters of the book of Job. By the end of chapter 2, Job has experienced deep losses. The pain of his suffering altered his physical appearance. His friends, upon seeing him, wept. “When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” (Job 2:11-13) The wisest thing these friends did was to sit in the dust with Job and suffer with him and not say a word. It was not until they tried to explain things and link suffering to God’s judgment on Job that things got ugly. There was a time when I was serving as a church pastor that a tragedy occurred. An infant was accidentally shot by an older sibling. The infant was taken to a local hospital for care. A few days later the child died. Added to the pain of this tragedy was the fact that a member of the church I served felt it her responsibility to inform the child’s mother that if she had faith the child would heal and live a normal life. What pain that mother felt at the loss of her child and what added pain was hers as she thought it was her fault because she didn’t have enough faith to save her little one’s life. Words can hurt, even crush someone who is suffering. Chaplains can ill-afford to be emotionally unaware of what is happening around them as they support the suffering. An ill-timed word or phrase can complicate the pastoral care relationship and make suffering so much worse. Persons suffering with cancer, HIV/AIDS, cardiac, and other high profile disease processes are vulnerable to comments that will make their suffering worse. In the coming days I will provide a singular focus on one disease process at a time in hopes that this review will provide both warning and instruction. Bless you, Chaplain Colleagues, as you communicate to your patients and families.