At times we all say the dumbest things to patients because of a lapse of thought. This article is just to remind us of the care we need to take in our conversations with hospice patients.
- “When God shuts a door. He opens a window.” Have you ever thought that from the patient’s perspective that yes, a door has shut, but there is no window? This statement obviously is religious graffiti with no basis in thoughtfulness. It might be a good exercise to read Job 2:11-13 to gain some insight into how to suffer with another human being: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.What did these three friends do? Correct. They sat in the ashes with Job and said not a word because they saw his greatness of suffering. Our western culture hates silence to the point that people feel like they have to interrupt the silence with inane words. We have to better than that. We continue…
- “If you pray hard enough…” Oh, how this incites many emotions within me. Why don’t we just say to the terminally ill person, “Look, this cancer (or whatever is claiming this person’s life) is all your fault. If only you had been more religious this wouldn’t have happened.” I would not expect a professional Chaplain to say something so outrageous as this, but it calls us to remember that our words have the power to support and encourage and to crush. Let’s be very sure we support and encourage.
- “God is in charge…” True, but your patient is experiencing life on the emotional side of things and is not really concerned with systematic theology at the moment.
- “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Again, true, and again this is not New Testament survey, this is life.
The above are usually stated by those who intellectualize suffering. If they can put a cliché to their religious thought then they believe everything will be alright and they can drop these statements on unsuspecting, dying patients. I simply ask you to swap places with the dying and answer how you believe you would feel is someone laid such guilt trips on you as you lay searching to make congruence out of your suffering and your faith.
Here are a couple of other statements that can pierce a soul much like the iceberg pierced the Titanic:
- “You can fight this.” No comment needed.
- “God must need you in Heaven.” Pulling my hair out on this one. Another variation is “God must have needed another angel when you baby died.”Why not something like this:“I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. I love you.”“You are so loved.”“You are not alone.”Chaplain Colleagues, we will hear well-meaning people say the worst things to our patients. Please educate and assist them to speak words of peace and comfort. Not an easy assignment, but yet, it is one of blessed tasks.