WHAT IN THE WORLD DO I SAY?

My wife is dealing with cancer and I’m learning some things about that far too common journey.   The ironic thing is that I’ve been writing a book on cancer with a friend, who is dealing with the strain of her second diagnosis of cancer.   For the past year, I’ve sent her a daily devotion and she has been journaling her response to each day’s post.  We hope to publish a book to help people find spiritual support and practical wisdom to help with their struggles.

It looks like I’ll be writing a chapter I never dreamed I would write….when cancer came to my family.

One of things I’m learning is how hard it is to support a loved one in a great trial.  It’s been said that it is harder to watch someone you love go through pain, than it is to go through it yourself. I know I’m finding it difficult to say the correct words to help my wife.  This is due to wondering “what is the right thing to say?”, not whether or not I want to be encouraging.    This dilemma is not a  “cancer”specific problem, but rather applies to anyone with a loved one in pain.

  • What do you say to a friend who says, “I have cancer?”
  • How do you encourage someone who says, “My husband left me for another woman?”
  • What expression of hope is appropriate for the one whose child just died?
  • How do you answer the question, “Why did this terrible thing happen to me?”
  • What can you say to the one who got laid off two weeks after his wife had a baby?

Now the problem is not having something to say.  The problem is not saying something that is trite in sentiment or that sounds callous to the one who is hurting.

  • Don’t say – “I know how you feel.” Nobody knows how anyone feels
  • Don’t say – “I am sure everything will be okay.” You don’t know that.
  • Don’t’ say – “I have a friend who had the same surgery, etc.” Your friend’s experience is not relevant.
  • Don’t’ say – “let me know if I can help.” Find a way to help.
  • Don’t say – “God needed your loved one in heaven.” That makes God sound cruel.

What do you do when someone you know gets the worst news ever? Maybe, don’t say anything at all. Do something!  Anything.   Say a prayer. Write a personal note. Make a personal visit.  Bring a meal to the house.   Make a phone call.  Make yourself available to listen.  Or try this, just go sit by their side and saying nothing at all while you hold their hand.

When someone gets the worst news ever, do something that will make you their best friend ever. Show them that you care.   That’s what they really need.  They don’t need a solution, they need to know they are loved.

P.S.  Let me know in the comment section you’d like to receive the cancer, or going through trial devotions, I mentioned in the last post.  I’m still compiling a list.

“I did it because I know what it feels like to be desperate.”

 

I heard Ben Horwitz, CEO of Opsware, tell a touching story about why he had his company pay insurance premiums for an employee that technically was not eligible for them. The man needed treatment for terminal cancer and the cost would be over $200,000.  Ben had been leading his company through a protracted struggle for it’s very survival for nearly five years when this decision was made. When the man’s widow called two years later to thank him for such a generous gift she asked him why he would do something like that for someone who he didn’t even know, he told her “I guess I did it because I know what it feels like to be desperate.” 

It’s interesting to speculate about whether or not he would have made such a generous gesture if he hadn’t been through such a struggle.  I don’t know Ben, but I think he, and almost everyone else in the world, might not have done it. There is a sensitivity to pain that is born in our hearts when have been through a fire.

This sensitivity is called empathy.  The dictionary defines empathy as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Empathy is a valuable tool for building your career as well as for helping others.  Since every business is a people business, we must remain in touch with our humanity.  Responding to the desperation in people’s lives will enhance our reputation among those we lead, and build rock solid loyalty in those we assist.

Some thoughts about empathy:

  • We don’t always choose when it shows up
  • We don’t always pay attention to its call for our attention
  • We always benefit from following its promptings
  • We will always be remembered  when we use it

Next time you are personally going through the fire, be grateful that not only is your courage being tested, and your resolution to succeed deepened, but that your heart is also being tendered for those who need you most.

I’m curious about how empathy has shown up in your work life.  Please make a comment and share your thoughts and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog.