How can we care for those who are terminally ill?



Dear Karen,
My stepfather would like to know how to care for a friend who is terminally ill?  Can you help? 

Dear Jeri:
My first response is to check out these Caregiving Basics.  The basics apply to all caregiving situations. Also, I think that the following advice from Margaret Vermeer can be very helpful. (I will insert a few additional ideas. My suggestions will be in Italic and contained within parenthesis marks.)

Margaret Vermeer served as a missionary in Nigeria. When she was seven months pregnant, she received the report that a biopsy of a small tumor was malignant. Five weeks after the surgery to remove the tumors, she gave birth to a son, then began chemotherapy and radiation treatments. For two years she had a miraculous remission, but then gradually more tumors appeared. As her condition grew increasingly serious, she became more sensitive about the way people viewed her. Six months before she died, she was speaking for women’s church groups, sharing her insights on how to care for others as she wanted to be cared for. Here are some of her thoughts:

Be honest in sharing your feelings. Don’t bounce into the room with false cheerfulness, but admit your helplessness and concern. “I would like to help you, but I don’t know how,” is a straightforward expression of concern. Don’t play games and be evasive. Even children can cope better when people talk to them honestly. (Yes, I remember the advice of Chuck Swindol:  “Be real. Admit your honest feelings.  If the news stunned you, say so.  If you don’t know what to say, say just that.  If you suddenly feel tears coming, cry.  If you are overwhelmed with pity and compassion, admit it.  When you allow your true feelings to show, you give me permission to also ‘let go’ and express my honest feelings.”)

Don’t preach out a well-thought-out sermon. Christians who bring out their Bibles and read lengthy passages are not being sensitive. To share a verse that means something to you may be helpful. (When sharing a verse which has been helpful to you, preface it with, “When I suffered, the following verse helped me. Perhaps it will be helpful to you also.”) When you quote a Bible verse to comfort a person, be sure you know what the verse means. When Margaret Vermeet knew that she only had a short time to live, she said that she was told by her Christian friends to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)..Look at that verse carefully. It doesn’t say give thanks for everything, it says to give thanks in everything. There is a vast difference. When we are told that “God causes everything to work together for good,” it doesn’t mean that all things are good in themselves, but that God is making them work out for good.

Be a good listener. People will tell you what they are ready to talk about. Sickness can be a very lonely journey. When Jesus was agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane He didn’t want to face death alone. He asked the disciples to wait and pray with Him, but they fell asleep. What good were they? (Some comments which may encourage the suffering person to share his or her feelings are: “I know that you are hurting, and I really care about that.  If you want to talk about it, I’ll listen.”  or “I can’t even imagine how much you must hurt or how lonely you must feel or how devastated you must be?” or  “What do you feel like talking about today?”

Treat a dying person as a human being. Sometimes we treat a dying person in such a way that we make it harder on that person emotionally. We shut the people up in hospitals, whisper behind their backs, and deprive them of all the things that had made their lives rich. Familiar things are important.

Always have hope.God is greater than the situations we face. Sometimes it’s hard to find that which is positive and hopeful, but there is always something to be thankful for. Help the patient look forward to something….a visit from someone special…a time when you will be returning.

-Death and the Life After, Billy Graham, 1987, W Publishing Group, Nashville, TN All rights reserved. Used by permission.

*For additional wisdom: see pages 152-155 in The Compassionate Congregation


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