As a very long-term cancer survivor, support has come to me in many different ways and for many years. I feel the most supported though, when people show me their true feelings, allowing me to share mine.
I find too often people want to be efficient and “fix” a problem for me, rather than really listen with all their heart. Listening for feelings does not come naturally to many of us, because by human nature we want to make things better. This may sound trite, but “just listening” can truly be the best support. Asking me an open-ended question such as, “How was it to do…or not be able to do …,” before jumping in to fix the problem, helps me focus on my feelings and invites me to elaborate. I find well-intentioned, upbeat responses or suggestions on how to “solve” a situation, leave me feeling cut off. “Cheering me up,” is just a short-term fix. However, asking about my feelings or asking open questions allows me to be introspective and grow closer to my family and friends.
The times I felt most supported were not when people tried to make me “feel better,” but when we cried together or admitted that the whole situation was really tough and scary.
Five other helpful ideas for being a good support person are:
1) Include me in normal conversation about regular life.
This took the focus off of me, and helped me feel like the supportive friend I had always been. Feeling useful, despite my own health struggles, was important to me at the time, as it helped me feel like my “normal” self.
2) Give me books.
I certainly received a stack of them! Yes, over time, I read every inspirational and self-help book given to me, and have internalized so many lessons it is now hard to say which of the core principles that guide my life came from these books, and which I discovered through my own process of self-reflection.
3) Provide extra, little touches that others would never think of.
One of my supportive friends always made sure to give me a pedicure when she visited me in the hospital. Certainly beautiful toes were not my top priority, but staring at my feet all day in a hospital bed, those sparkling toes definitely brightened my day!
4) Do something original.
Another friend truly had fun supporting me and came up with inventive ways to show she cared. For example, she brought a blender to the hospital, much to the surprise of my nurses, who were convinced my room was turning into Margaritaville. But no, she brought ingredients to make me a fresh milkshake, flavor of my choice! This same, creative friend brought me a “pet project,” upon my return from the hospital. It was my own mini herb garden that she helped me plant, knowing that taking care of something else would nourish me emotionally.
5) Get me the resources I needed.
A friend introduced me to a patient empowerment program that helped me make positive changes in my life to get well and stay well. Not surprisingly many things I learned from this program motivated me to coauthor Digging Deep.