Supporting Someone Through Illness

“You’re not the only one who suffers”

I have been blessed with some close friends who have walked with me through the many varying illnesses that I have been diagnosed with. All of these friends are also Christians, and have modelled to me the love of Jesus by being comforting, compassionate and desiring to see me better.  These people have been the hands and feet of Jesus to me in some of the most difficult seasons of my life. These are the ones who have earnestly desired to see me healed, and have prayed for years that this will occur. These are the few who know me very well. They have taken the time to stop and listen to me, and in return I respect what they have to say to me because they have taken the time to get to know me. Therefore, I allow them to be the ones to point me back to Christ in the moments when I just want to give up because it’s just so hard to keep going. 

These are the few that through trial and error have discovered that it’s not always helpful to compare my suffering with other people. But then other people who don’t know me that well think that they are being helpful by making comparison comments such as “you’re not the only one who suffers”. What these people are not aware is that comparing people’s suffering, when we are all told in the Bible that we are going to suffer to varying degrees, can really hurt and damage a person.  

People walking through the illness or disability are aware that they are not the only one who are in that situation, that they are not the only ones who are suffering, and that some people’s situations are worse than their current situation. We spend a lot of time in doctor’s waiting rooms and hospitals, and see and speak to people in pretty horrible situations. Often we have developed a lot of empathy for other people, because we actually know what it is like. 

However, when a person has been diagnosed with yet another illness or life altering disability, initially they need to focus on what it means for them, and the impact it will have on their lives. As much as I understand people mean well, it can be unhelpful to make comparisons in an attempt to make the person ‘feel better’, because you could be making them feel worse as it can feel as if you are not validating the experience and difficulty of the situation. 

It’s not just the sweeping statements like “you’re not the only one who suffers” that are unhelpful, but even the little comparison comments, which are well meaning can be detrimental. These are the comments such as “I know someone who has [insert illness or disability]”, or “They managed it through this”, or “Have you tried this, it worked for them”, or “You should go to this [insert health professional], it really worked for them’. I know people are actually trying to be helpful in letting the person know that they are not alone in having that illness or disability. They are also trying to be helpful in offering solutions to the problem, because everyone seems to have a desire to fix ‘the problem’. 

However, what people may be neglecting to see is that everyone’s experience of an illness or disability is unique to the individual. What works for some people, may not work for others. If you’re trying to see if they would like to discuss their experience with a fellow sufferer,then state “My [insert relationship] also suffers from [insert illness or disability], would it be helpful for you to discuss with them about their experience?” 

Furthermore, everyone’s experience of suffering is unique to the individual, and the way that they cope with suffering is probably different because they are suffering different things. In fact comparing people’s responses to disability and illness, can belike comparing cheese and milk. They are both dairy but made up of different substances, look different and taste different.  

I do not actually see the need to compare people’s suffering, illness or disability. It’s not always helpful, and sometimes it can come across as minimising what one is going through. Instead it is best to validate the difficulty of the situation, and seek to understand the individual’s unique difficulties and needs, to be able to support that individual in the best way possible. Thank you to all those in my life who have done this! 

Author

briar@strengthdignityhope.com

Comments

Anonymous
November 21, 2019 at 3:32 am

Very challenging and thought provoking comments. Very professionally done Briar Rose.



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