This post is dedicated to Paul. As the e-mails circulating among our friends about his stroke, the usefulness of the posts How to Respond When Someone is Ill or Injured and Unique Gifts for Hospital Patients were obvious. Yet, I was reminded that many people don’t know how to act when they are in the presence of someone who is ill or injured, which is unfortunate since seeing family and friends can play a very important role in healing,
Given Paul’s diagnosis, I thought a good place to start was with Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, the neuroanatomist who documented her recovery in “My Stroke of Insight.” She outlined in her book, “Forty Things I Needed Most” from her friends, family and visitors. This was a good jumping off point to write 10 “How to Be’s” regardless of diagnosis.
• Be respectful not only of the person but those closest to them.
• Be mindful of how you speak and communicate: Speak clearly, slowly and distinctly. Unless they are deaf, speaking louder doesn’t help and it can be confusing and frustrating for them. Repeat what you said, sitting close so they are more likely to hear you.
• Be patient, gentle and non judgmental: They are wounded and need time and support in healing. People react differently to illness and injury so don’t over react to their behavior. Chances are they are having a very normal reaction to a very abnormal situation. This can be a long process so remember to be patient with yourself as well.
• Be aware of what your body language and facial expressions communicate. Make eye contact. Nervous and weeping visitors aren’t helpful. You can communicate healing and loving energy by how you approach and interact with them. Don’t be afraid to touch them, but do so appropriately and respectfully.
• Be encouraging: Cheer them on. Healing is hard work. Celebrate all of their successes no matter how small. Celebrate what they can do not what they can’t do.
• Be mindful of their needs
- Sleep is a wonderful healer, so eliminate distractions such as radios, and TV.
- Keep visits short, unless they make it clear they want you to stay.
- Speak to them directly, not about them with others.
- Keep them familiar with family, friends and loving support by building a collage wall or an album of cards and photographs. Be sure to label things to help them understand whose who.
- Continue to share with them the things they loved-music, art, books, movies etc.
- Medications, medical procedures as well as the injury or illness, can change how they appear and act, so don’t over react to what they might say and do.
- They need you to listen to what they have to say.
• Be part of a healing team: Not only are there very practical things that need to be done, having a strong group of family and friends that are encouraging, cheering on the smallest of improvements, can be very helpful. Using a free Lotsa Helping Hands website is a great way to organize a team that can provide support and help as needed. However, be sure they and those closest to them are comfortable with this.
• Be protective but don’t stand in the way of their making progress. While they may need assistance, if they want to try doing things on their own, be close enough to help them but not so close you stifle them.
• Be funny: Laughter heals.
• Be mindful that healing is not cure. Healing implies the possibility for us to relate differently to illness, disability, even death, as we learn to see with eyes of wholeness. Healing is coming to terms with things as they are. Jon Kabat-Zinn