There are some conversations in life that are just difficult, particularly those around death, dying, loss, grief, and illness. They are also all natural parts of life. In this episode, Sharon Delaney McCloud shares how talking about difficult things can be done with courage and compassion.
Talking about illness.
We all like to think we know ourselves well enough to know how we would react to an illness or major life-changing event, but the truth is that we don’t know until we have to cross that bridge. When a friend or loved one is going through a difficult time we often find ourselves at a loss for words. We want to say the right thing, the thing that will make it all better, but we don’t know what that is and we end up saying things that aren’t useful or helpful even though they are said with the best intentions.
I, personally, like many survivors have a running list of non-helpful things that people say. Some are silly, some are downright thoughtless. The most hurtful though, is when a friend or loved one says nothing for fear of saying the wrong thing and pulls away. When you’re absolutely at a loss for words, say that. “You mean a lot to me and I’m not sure what to say.” “I want to be helpful, what can I do for you right now?” “How are you feeling right now?” Just being supportive and showing you care is enough.
Don’t go it alone.
If you are terrified of how to handle a situation, find resources that can help (like this one). Don’t ignore what’s happening. Acknowledge that the situation sucks. Find someone else who’s been through it and find out what was helpful to them.
Humor is top of mind. Kathy Griffin, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Fran Drescher, and Wanda Sykes come to mind, as well as Gilda Radner and Rita Rudner. But anyone you find funny will work! As mentioned in my previous podcast episode (#51), humor takes the pressure off and opens the door for deeper, more meaningful conversations to take place.
The hardest things to talk about.
One of the most difficult things to talk about is death. Most people are afraid of it and aren’t taught how to talk about or process it. The loss of a loved one is excruciating. Allowing the living to talk about those they are grieving helps the living by keeping the memory and essence of the deceased alive.
“As a bereaved parent, many of us find healing by talking about our lost children.”Sharon Delaney McCloud
Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
As with other things in life, feeling uncomfortable in certain situations is just part of life. Thoughtfully prepare a compassionate answer to an uncomfortable situation and rehearse it until it feels natural.
“When people don’t know what to say, they say nothing and that is even more isolating and painful.”Sharon Delaney McCloud
If you see someone who is going through an illness, ask them how they are feeling that day (it’s different than asking how they feel overall). Be prepared for an honest response which could mean, “not great”. Acknowledge their answer to show you heard what they said. Remember, you don’t have to fix it or them, you just have to show you care.
If they say something that makes you uncomfortable, ask if they would like to share more about that – their illness, loss, or grief – and don’t shrink away. Most of the time we just want someone to witness our pain and the journey we have been on.
Here are some of my favorite moments from this episode:
- 2:13 Sharon’s cancer experience.
- 4:53 The importance of clinical trials.
- 6:47 Of hot flashes and other side effects…
- 10:44 Finding humor in the dark hole.
- 11:50 You are not your hair (and sometimes it’s not yours).
- 21:22 Spin up and celebrate!
- 23:59 The Holt Brothers Foundation
- 27:10 What is a Viloma?
- 34:25 The awkward things that people say to you, and helping others who don’t know what to say.
- 38:49 Looking at life differently.
- 41:21 We’re all in this together.
Links mentioned in this podcast:
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If you’re stressed about what to eat check out episode 34 with Cathy Leman, RD, or episode 35 where I talk about food rules vs. food values. Episode 19 and episode 30 were about balancing components of an anti-cancer lifestyle. Episodes 25, 31, and 32 were about helping you find ways to heal your soul through Reiki and healing touch, writing, and art therapy. Funny episode 16 with Dr. Shari Fox.