Posted by: SPOOKY | 2009-06-01

Propping up a dying friend.

Dear CyberShrink,

I trust that you are still well. How nice it is to have someone like you to turn to. I have not visited this site for ages but now I am desperate. Apologies for only visiting when I am in need.

About 2 weeks ago I was informed by the young son of a 48 year old female family friend that she had been diagnosed with cancer - now metastasized and at stage 4. I have always enjoyed the trust and confidence of relatives, friends and acquaintances from all walks of life as they unburden their hearts to me in an attempt find some solace and counsel out of their doldrums. This time, however, I am stumped!

The young boy has asked me to please go “ see”  his mum. I am not a health care professional, and suddenly I realise the enormity of the challenges faced by Psychiatrists and Psychologists. I simply cannot think of a way to alleviate their pain. I so much yearn to help them deal with this dilemma. How does one allay such anguish and suffering with words? I shall feel like such a coward, should she pass away before I pluck up the courage to go “ see”  her.

Please help.


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Our expert says:
Expert ImageCyberShrink

Hi Spooky --- nice to hear from you again.

I think you could be very helpful to your friend, but you are stumped by several factors. One is your reputation as being helpful, perhaps usually in situations in which you can see clear solutions and ways to encourage the person that things will soon get better. And here's a situaton where things will NOT get better in the usual sense, and there are no easy solutions to suggest.

You're right to reconize the huge challenges faced by we professionals in all sort of situations like that. But just because you are not a professional ( so you can't be asked to cure her ) there is so much you could do.

If there is physical pain or symptoms troubling her and her family, they should get the nearest hospice to provide a visiting nurse who can help get pain and other symptoms under control. The Cancer Association should also be able to help in this way.

If you're thinking of the psychological pain they are suffering, you can be so helpful if you don't get too ambitious. Usually what a person in such a situation needs is someone kind and sympathetic who will listen to them when they have something they want to say; to hear their quesions, not to answer them; to sit in silence when they don't want to speak. You don't have to explain death, or make it lovely. You can't make it "all right" as you usually do, but that's not what they're looking for from you. Don't avoid her, visit as soon as possible, and then as often as pleases her. Give company, empathy, respond to what she wants. It is highly unlikely that she wll ask for anything you can't easily give. Don't be inhibited, as we so often are, by not having all the answers. With death, none of us have all the answers, and those who think they do, are often the most unhelpful.

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