When Others Don’t Know What Helps You

by James E. Miller

A popular T-shirt that made the rounds a few years ago had these words printed on it: “Be patient with me. God isn't finished with me yet.” You may want to visualize that T-shirt on some of the people who volunteer to help you, and some of those who don't.
     Let's first admit this: those who are there to assist you have a difficult role. In our culture, unlike many other cultures, there are almost no rules that prescribe what others are to do when someone like you has suffered a serious loss. In addition, many people have had little or no experience with loss and suffering in their own lives. Also, it's a subject that our society generally wants to pass over and ignore.
     It should not surprise you, therefore, if you find that others fall short in the kind of care they give you, or they don't give you. They may avoid talking about your loss, thinking that's what you want, not realizing you really want the opposite. They may avoid broaching the subject out of their own discomfort, not realizing that almost everyone feels as uncomfortable as they do.
     Once you begin speaking, these people may not give you the opportunity to say as much as you need to. They may not want you to express as much emotion as wants to come out. They may compare their own very different and much more limited losses to yours, thinking it will forge a bond between you, when it may actually create a distance between you. They may offer you a variety of cliches, thinking it will help. Perhaps you've heard some of them already, like, “God doesn't give you more than you can handle,” or “I know exactly how you feel,” or “Cheer up. It could be worse.”
     Someone who is with you regularly in a helping capacity may find it hard to let you have the privacy you sometimes crave. Others may not give you the follow-up you deserve. Some may offer you too much advice and not enough understanding, while others may want to take too much control and leave you too little freedom.
     In short, your helpers may be awkward in their helping, just as you sometimes feel awkward in needing help.
     It will be up to you how you respond in this delicate situation. On the one hand, you may feel tired and out of sorts. Your patience may be wearing thin. You may feel that you deserve better treatment. At the same time, you may not want to make waves. You may hesitate to risk offending someone who is important to you.
     There will probably be times when your forgiveness is what will work best. Often people's hearts are really in the right place, even if that doesn't appear to be the case initially. There will probably be other times when your honesty will help those others improve their caregiving skills. If people like you do not inform them, they may never learn until they experience their own serious loss. And that may be a long time. There may also be times when you choose to state your position with the full force of your firmness and conviction. Only you can decide.
     An old expression goes, “Any adversity not learned from is an adversity wasted.” One learning that may come from this adversity of yours is what good caregiving is all about. You may be able to help others become better caregivers today, while you are on your way to being a better caregiver yourself tomorrow.


Jim Miller has many more suggestions about going through a time of grief in his innovative double book What Will Help Me? 12 Things to Remember When You Have Suffered a Loss from which this excerpt was taken. You can learn more about this book, as well as other Willowgreen resources about loss and grief, here.