First, consider the environment of your gatherings. Creating a safe, confidential, welcoming space for your family or friend allows them to feel at ease to talk about whatever they want. In doing so, you will be able to actively listen and anticipate feelings of grief. This provides the opportunity for our loved ones to feel understood while building a deeper connection with you. By listening, you offer them control over the conversation and relieve any obligation from them having to tell you everything.
Remember, these meaningful conversations are very individual. Over time, most dealing with a severe illness will develop some vision of what they would like their future to be. However, allow them to guide these time-sensitive conversations. Some may share what quality of life they are striving. This can help lead to some enlightening questions we may have. Still, remaining present in the moment allows our loved ones to share what they are comfortable with, whether it be the past, present, or future.
Beyond listening, be mindful of your responses. It can seem surreal when we hear of our loved ones’ physical challenges or diagnoses. We want to help ease their pain. At the same time, we need to calm our thoughts and hopes for cures. Many of us feel it’s our job to “cheer” them up. Yet, this is far from reality. You do not need to guess, urge, or prompt them to find out what you can do to help. In addition, sharing stories you found online about people who have beaten their illness can cause more harm than good. Instead, tailor your responses with the assurance they are seen and heard. Often, providing a safe space for our loved ones is the best way we can show our support.
More importantly, ensure those suffering do not feel like they are putting a damper on the event. Their ailment may make them feel as they are a burden to everyone. Reassure them that their presence is wanted to help alleviate this fear. Also, focus on something you can thank them for, whether a past action or willingness to join the current event. You can even engage with one or two “remember when” stories, particularly if it elicits a fond holiday memory for you both. Watch for fatigue and asking about their energy level. Saying goodbye at the right time can put a beautiful bow on your time together. And don’t forget those three big words: “I Love You.”
Making a difference in someone’s life is worth the effort. Please take it from me, as I’ve been on both sides of this conversation. Our time and sincere attention are often overlooked gifts we can give to others. Utilizing these guidelines, I wish you the best holiday season with your loved ones.