Miserable Comfort

Day 9bRight before my caregiving journey, I found out that a dear lady and her husband (parents of Pedro’s students) were in the midst of their own cancer journey. He had prostrate cancer—and his health and healing became a matter of daily prayer for me—even during my darkest hours. Even though I didn’t know the family well, I felt solidarity in knowing that someone else traveled at the same time I did.

Of course, I didn’t know how to do anything BUT pray for my fellow travelers—I felt uncomfortable calling them to check up on them (plus, I hate talking on the phone) because I didn’t know them THAT well. And her husband’s diagnosis wasn’t the kind of show-up-with-a-casserole-catastrophic kind. But prayer, I could do that!

It turns out that the dear lady happened to be one of the chaplains at our local hospital, and from her I learned how to give comfort that encourages and brings relief. She made herself available, but didn’t push. She never visited with an agenda, and she never outstayed her welcome. She assured me of her continued prayers for Pedro and for me. She organized a funds drive at her church and left a check for $2,000.00 with a sweet note for us right before we headed to San Francisco.

Not everyone offered the same kind of comfort (I’m sure you’ve run into other types—the Bible pretty much covers them in the book of Job).

When disaster struck, some ‘comforters’ arrived on the scene armed with anecdotes of how they had suffered. Or, of how their next-door-neighbor’s-first-cousin-once-removed suffered from nearly the same ailment and found miraculous healing through memorizing scripture and self-administering carrot-juice enemas twice a day.

Some comforters arrived with a stricken countenances and eagerly awaited the moment when they could hear the afflicted one’s confession of sin (I call it dragging in an elephant). They never came right out and accused Pedro of harboring a secret sin that caused his cancer, but the implication lurked in the room.

Some people comforted from afar…some times, from too far away. Maybe they didn’t know what to say in response to all of the bad news (that’s pretty much all I sent out in my update emails to those who asked to be on the list). I’m sure they felt it was better not to say anything because the situation seemed so hopeless.

Maybe your comforters barge in barking orders to bewildered bystanders; questioning the medical process (without really understanding what’s going on) or pressuring the ill one to try alternate therapies or some great cure they’ve heard about (shark cartilage in Cuba, for example).

Those close comforters that wanted to direct the orchestra always added extra stress and discomfort because as valued friends or family members, it was hard to know how to respond to their ‘comfort.’ Stay silent to keep long-term relations positive?  Speak up and offend someone?

We have stacks of cards from friends and strangers, not to mention files of encouraging emails (our journey took place long before the advent of Facebook and twitter). We cherish those kind words as memorials to the prayers that others offered on our behalf.

Yes. I know exactly what Job speaks about when he says:

“I have heard many things like these;
you are miserable comforters, all of you!
Will your long-winded speeches never end?
What ails you that you keep on arguing?
I also could speak like you,
if you were in my place;
I could make fine speeches against you
and shake my head at you.
But my mouth would encourage you;
comfort from my lips would bring you relief.” (Job 16:2-5 NIV)

What experiences have you had as either a comforter or one receiving comfort? Do you have any ideas or stories to share with the rest of us? (tweet this)

For More Caregiver Comfort, check out these posts:
October 1—He is
October 2—Rod and Staff
October 3—New Song
October 4—Inadequate
October 5—Promise
October 6—Unfailing
October 7—Afflicted
October 8—Abound

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • I was once an impatient, irritated, and non-compassionate person, but God changed that by giving me a daughter who was a juvenile diabetic. At 22 she started to suffer rare complications and had to have a muscle removed from her leg. She spent 4 weeks in the hospital and had 3 surgeries. Over the next 10 years she continued to struggle, spending over a year–a few weeks at a time–in the hospital. Each time I was blessed to have enough sick leave (I teach 7th grade English & History) to spend those days in the hospital and then help her when she first went home. I was never her full-time care-giver, but I learned mercy and compassion. I’m currently in training through my church to become a Stephen Minister and draw alongside those suffering a crisis. My experiences were ones of growth as god molded me into someone more kind, patient, and loving. I know I have a lot more growing to do.
    Debbie Putman recently posted…WaitMy Profile

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Debbie! I struggle some days to remember that we all have a story (especially with the squirrely 9th grade class 😉 ). But God consistently reminds me that every. one. of. us. deserves to be treated with compassion and patience (not just the patients). Life is a journey of learning (and here I thought I was the teacher…). Blessings to you and your family!

  • Oh Anita, this resonated with me because I’m such a lousy comforter. Empathy is naturally hard for me, and I don’t do small talk well, so I don’t know what to say or do in situations where my heart longs to offer comfort. I would love some practical advice from you!!
    Asheritah recently posted…We’re Always Heading Home:: Abiding in Christ {Day 9}My Profile

    • barbara gibson

      People are still the people you know…just because this new twist in life,their personality remains,though not in tact,the same…if they loved movies..chances are they still do…if the live gossip,and hearing the latest neighborhood dish…ya you get it…Some want to spare them,or coddle them…but life is going on around them and somehow they do feel “not in the loop”…so send them an email,share a Dvd…or even a fresh idea…Most people tend to dwell on the illness,and believe me that is indeed the big ole pink elephant in the room…if it is Christmas ask if you can help them with their gift list…it really does matter more then you know,that things remain the same,although in reality they will never be the same again…Ask them questions about their family,their kids,their cats,whatever..they really do tire talking about their ills…I recommend a good comedy,or a real life event,now that is cheerier and more cherished then another casserole or bouquet…or just a quick note about what you did today can ease that “frozen in time” feeling and let them know you cared enough to make a thought about them too,part of your day

    • Prayers are always good! Prayers for not just the afflicted one, but for the caregiver as well. Little acts of service or gifts (hand lotion, lip balm, snacks, etc) are always welcomed. A note saying that you’ve prayed for a person and their situation lets the caregiver or the sick person know that you’re thinking about them. Maybe I need to write a whole post on this ;).

  • This is a thought-provoking post. I struggle with knowing how to comfort others. As an introvert, I am often very uncomfortable myself in certain situations… I’m not socially inept, but sometimes tend to think that I am. I don’t cook, so I can’t offer casseroles. You have made me think of how sometimes the best thing is prayer- the only thing- and it is something we ALL can do! Thank you for sharing your journey!

  • barbara gibson

    I too over the course have experienced…”oh boy have I”..this kind of comfort.I know people mean well,I really do…As a care giver it is my job to provide the care my “people” want.In the many thousands of hours upon hours we spend together we touch on every topic imaginable.There are those who find peace and comfort from “getting there house in order”, some who are just plain cranky.Some people are shy,and want this experience if you will to remain calm…or just go away without any pomp…It is all about them.I have seen neighbors who have been in bitter battles,somehow want to be best friends again in the time of need.I have heard “why now ,because they think I am dying?” More then a time or two.I understand the meaning of genuine care…really I do.I also get that some people,no matter what a person is going through,need to put in their two cents or have the last word,or surprisingly just want details in that “looky look” way.
    I have had family show up mid day to say “you are not doing this right”…
    I know it may not be up to every one’s standards to say feed a person a TV dinner of semi nutrient deprived vegetables…but for some who grew up on the baloney and Wonder bread diet,this is what they know,and given their train wreck of a household ,all scurrying to meet the added demands of keeping it real in the midst of family chaos…it works.The person under the care of many ( too many for them) Dr.’s ,Dietition’s,and experts…are basically trying to hold it together!I know you would like to see the person wearing the fuzzy pink nighty you gave as a gift,when you visit…but please do not be offended,tell me or them your feelings,or make it about you!..If the person is too tired for company,an outting to Kmart…when you have time…please do not be offended.Exhausted is exhausted is the truth..not an offensive excuse.Well maybe sometimes it is that,but we do our best to keep the peace,smile,invite you in for ten minutes…take the silent “Q” from our person,and keep every single upset to a minimum…We share the most private thoughts with these people about family,friends,and situations…We find humor in things that would scare mist people.One of my sweetest,and saddest memories is helping a mother of 8, plan her own funeral.Which included a trip to the Funeral Home to pick out the perfect casket…we dressed up in the right color,the right shade of lipstick,checked the satin linings and picked out the perfect rose on the Memory card.Not only was she my “person” she was my Mother…(in law)…to this day,and it has been 20 odd years I cannot write about that moment in time,so precious without wiping tears…or adding..”It was the best of times…it was the worst of times”.As this is real life it continues to go on around you…we laugh,we cry,we say “cmon,I am tired and you have the wheelie chair”…We burn the toast,we eat it anyway…and yes we still yell at the kids,laugh,gossip, fold the laundry,and dance in the rain….

  • This is honestly something I never really think of, although as my grandparents age and their health fades, this will become more of an issue. This post makes me wonder which type I will be.
    Jenny recently posted…Philippians 4 and Sirach 17My Profile

    • If your comfort is based on prayer and love, it will always be the right kind of comfort :).
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Inspire Me MondayMy Profile

  • My mother died in May. I am still recovering. I don’t know that I have anything other than that to share. It still feels raw and real … and it still feels exhausting. Or rather, the light of being on this side of it is in such contrast to the weight of it that I am only now realizing just how heavy and exhausting it was.
    Cynthia Lee recently posted…More things to do in November!My Profile

    • Cynthia, I’m so sorry for your loss. Mommies make the world go ’round–it doesn’t matter if your five or fifty. May God be with you in your season of grief and recovery from caregiving. He is with you just as much now as he was during the caregiving.

  • Sandy

    Thank you for this, Anita. My best friend’s husband (our families became families to each other from the minute we met) died unexpectedly at the age of 43. She drove him to the ER one night (their only son, 10 years old was with us) and he didn’t come home when she left the hospital the next day.
    She grieved beyond what I had ever seen and even though we had shared laughter, talking and tears … I didn’t know how to help her.
    I did the only thing I knew to do and made myself available. One day, she was overwhelmed and I found out she needed to polish her furniture. That was my serving for the moment. It sounds simplistic but it was what she needed at that time.
    I was sending her cards filled with Scriptures except one card when I just ran out of things to say or share. I hand wrote one verse on that card. She called me crying and said that the other cards were wonderful but she liked that one best of all. She said it was just enough for her at a given moment.
    I wasn’t perfect by any means and I am sure I did at least some of the things you mentioned in this post.
    Reading what you wrote was revealing to me and I am using it as the gift of a lesson in helping someone who is suffering.
    Since my dear friend’s heartbreak, our family lost my beautiful niece in a tragic car accident when she was 23 years old and our 9 year old nephew got cancer. He fought it until he was 13 and he went to be with Jesus.
    I remember some of the things that helped us through the many hospital visits and whole process were some of the “smallest”. Having change given to us for a cup of coffee, a note letting us know that someone was praying… a gas ticket to help with all the traveling.
    I have written a small book here! Your post brought things to my heart today… may God bless you.

    • What a blessing to be used to bring comfort to a friend and what a blessing that others reached out to you in your season of grief. The things you suggest are exactly the kind of ‘helpful comfort’ that I’m talking about. Comfort, seasoned with prayer and filtered through our Heavenly Father will always be right (I’m starting to think that ‘comfort’ is just another word for ‘love’).
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Miserable ComfortMy Profile

  • Thank you for sharing your story and your thoughts on comfort. I often find myself as the person who doesn’t know how to comfort those in extreme pain. It isn’t that I don’t want to, but I don’t always know how to help them, or what to say that would make things better, and I certainly don’t want to say anything that will make things worst. At least we do have prayer to turn to in those times. Thanks for widening my perspective with this post!
    Caroline Eaton recently posted…Link Love: Local Adventures All Around the WebMy Profile

    • A heart the wants to serve and give comfort is a great place to start, Caroline. Just coming alongside someone in pain and letting them know that you care is an act of comfort. A note, a card, a gift card, an offer to help and prayer, always prayer. I think so often people feel paralyzed by not knowing what to do that they do nothing, and then feel guilty and then even more paralyzed.
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Miserable ComfortMy Profile

  • Sandy

    Please forgive the grammatical nightmare of my post! I was typing too fast, I guess. 🙂

  • I have so much to learn in this area as it’s one in which I have no experience. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. I know when I encounter hurting people, I really want to help, but don’t want to overstep or overstay.

    Also, that pastor who accused your husband of secret sin? So help me, I would have wanted to smack him (in Christian love and charity of course)…

    • I did the Christian equivalent, I wrote a loving blog post about him ;). Thanks for stopping by, Becky!

  • I love this post! Earlier today I gave comfort to a baby who hit herself (a little too hard) in the face with a toy. I didn’t swoop her up right away–I waited to see if she was really in need of comfort. She continued to cry like tomorrow would never come, so I picked her up. All I did was hold her while she rested her head on my chest and cried until she could breathe without hiccups, and it was enough. I think I learned something about comfort, today! <3
    Laura Melchor recently posted…Why I Don’t Like Stuck in LoveMy Profile

    • Ah, what a sweet story! Sometimes, we just need that assurance that someone cares.

  • A beautiful post and very timely for me. My mother has Alzheimer’s, and we are in the midst of trying to organize help for her. It’s been difficult and challenging! Blessings to you!
    Lisa DB Taylor recently posted…SanctuaryMy Profile

    • That must be so difficult for you and your family, Lisa. Alzheimer’s is scary and confusing. May God be with you and comfort you as you make decisions and care for your mom.