It’s never easy to receive news of a family member or friend being diagnosed with a terminal illness. It can be difficult to come up with words of comfort, so the tendency is to avoid an uncomfortable interaction. Rev. Dr. John Ross Senior Minister for Wayzata Community Church encourages you not to worry about finding the words because simply showing up and saying nothing is best for everyone.
“Show up & Shut up”These five words comprised the totality of my first seminary assignment on Pastoral Care.
“Needless to say, my professor returned my paper with a single word clearly printed in all capital letters: INCOMPLETE. In so far as I was a graduate student working toward a Master’s of Divinity degree, she was correct. Over my years as a pastor serving in a mission field of pain, I was correct.
The assignment, as I recall it these 28 years later, was to compose a personal thesis on how to appropriately provide pastoral care to those in the immediate shadow of a terminal diagnosis – no more than 5 pages, doubled-spaced. She didn’t mandate a minimum length, but it was implied. The difference between us remains: her job was to “teach”… my job is to “do”.
These five words, as incomplete as they were to her, still guide my initial response to those who receive devastating news in any form. Just this past week I prayed in the hallway at church, held hands in a living room, and fought back tears on a telephone call–the common denominator among those I served was terminal cancer.
Knowing that you all face similar moments of unspeakable pain with friends and family, I offer these same five words of advice: Show up and shut up. Show up at the door of a loved one in pain… and stay only long enough for them to know you care– sincerely. Whether they invite you in, or stand like a guard in the doorway, do everyone a favor: say as little as possible– your tears will say more than your words ever could.
Speaking of showing up, the best way is with empty hands so that a hug is possible. However, if you must show up with a book intended to help them in their suffering, let me recommend one: a blank journal with lined pages. Rather than fill their minds with the words of others, give them a way to pen their own words, share their own thoughts, and frame their own experiences.
For the moment, ask yourself one questions: Who needs me today? Now that you have a name and a face in your mind, go to them without the need to HAVE an answer to their pain… but instead, BE an answer in the midst of their pain. Show up… and shut up. Trust that God will do the rest”.
Article reposted with permission from Rev. Dr. John Ross Senior Minister for Wayzata Community Church.