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How To Behave With A Heavily Sick Person

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Hello everybody,


just two days ago I went for a visit to a couple: she is very much sick with cancer (fighting for her health), her husband is somebody who somehow managed to get through the happening in Sarajevo because of a very warm heart and because of his love for this woman). My husband and I both were very much aware of the sickness, but somehow tried not to mention it although it was constantly present (caughing in the middle of July, problems with walking, pain in the legs). Anyway, at some point, I asked the woman how her cures look like (I admit, I really didn't imagine how it is, so it was a natural question for me). After all, we came there to hear from her, not to talk about weather. And we came to chear her a bit.


What does hurt more - to talk about the cause of suffering or not to talk about it and repress it, leave those who suffer closed and abandoned in their grief.


Years ago, I had almost the same experience with my aunt. She seemed so lonely in her fear of dying; everybody knew what was about to happen and everybody lied to her about the possibilities for getting well. Even she herself, when communicating with the others, imposed respecting this social fear onto herself, trying to appear courageous or at least not to show the fear. But letting her alone in her fear was yet one suffering more that was inflicted to her - or to anybody in her position just because of the social roles, just because of the socially repressed fear of death. As if such a fear was a kind of virus that could make others sick as well.


But nevertheless, even though one decides to cut through the veil of social roles, there is always this dilemma: am I creating new suffering for the person by being direct? And even though talking as naturally as it is possible about death of another person that is with you, there is still this feeling of helplessness. Yes, one can say to the sick person: think about everything positive you've done in your life, concentrate on that! But what to do actively to lessen his/her suffering? Prayers of Tara, Sangye Menla (that I unfortunately was not initiated into), in the Sogyal Rinpoche's Book of Life and Death there is also described some simple practice of a meditant connecting the sick person with the purifying light (of Budda, Boddishattva or other saint being).


As I write down these lines - I was just reminded of what a woman met in the church of St. Kliment of Ohrid (Macedonia) said to me. She was a theologian, a very profoundly religiose orthodox. In the orthodox churches, the candles can be lit on a bench with "two floors". On the upper one, for the living, on the lower one, for the dead. I asked the woman where to lit a candle for my aunt. And she said: "Light it on on the upper, for no one, except God, knows, what will happen." Perhaps some of people in this forum would smile at her reply, smile at the naivety of other religious traditions. For me, her words put another question, the one about hope.


So: when being confronted with a very much sick person: how to be true, how not to add the suffering, and how to develop hope not only for the person involved, but also for those who are suffering beacuse a dear person is litterally dying in front of their eyes.


I would like to hear your opinions,


all the best,





PS: And please, do pray for the health of the sick!

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[quote name = 'kunzang']For me, her words put another question, the one about hope.[/quote]In Stanford Hospital, women with advanced cancer of breast, were invited to so called supporting groups. They were in the situation, in which doctors could not do much to stop the disease any more, in fact, they have already been tried everything. The women felt, that supporting groups were the only place, where they didn`t need to hide their feelings. Because the family members and friends were talking about the cancer with fear and other not correspondant feelings, so with them they couldn`t really talk openly. Yet, women among themselves they could talked openly, cried, release their feelings, which ever they were, as well they had a chance to be loving and carrying to each other, they exchanged the emotional support and give a comfort to each other. The effect of such supporting groups was a surprise for the doctors. The women, which went in these groups, lived twice longer as those which didn`t. The relation was 37 months : 19 months.

The feeling of being acknowledged and acknowledge, feeling of receiving and giving the warm empathy and deep understanding have a healing effect.

Best regards,

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Guest Ani.Chödrön



i would share some limited experiences and poor knowledge. I hope the others will add wiser thoughts.


there is always this dilemma: am I creating new suffering for the person by being direct?
Indeed there is no one answer to this, it depends on so many factors: the stage of disease, the social circumstances, the psychological strength of the person, the spiritual background, the conditions of each moment...

Nevertheless, the experiences of people who are often accompanying the dying and the palliative care literature exposes what you and Simona told: not having a chance to talk can add another layer of suffering. And the opposite: the ability to talk, to be heard, to be understood, to be given support in whatever state one finds himself, can be healing.


For me, her words put another question, the one about hope.
A terminally ill or dying patient needs hope: to live, to die well or that everything will be fine, whatever occurs. On the other hand, when facing such a profound challenge, one goes through different stages. Elisabeth Kübler Ross described them as: denial, anger, negotiation, depression, acceptance. Other terms can be used for this. The point is, that one has to establish inner conditions to accept the change and perceive it with a positive mind. So these inner processes can not be skipped. For example, comforting the terminally ill person with "everything will be all right", when one is angry at all doctors, can block one's willingness to talk, or even the process of confronting the inevitable.

The topic of hope is very sensitive, case to case, day to day, often minute to minute. On one hand, one needs to be ready to give hope or trust or faith at any time, on the other hand one needs to be very much attentive of the momentarily needs of the person. Regular visits and deeper trust among the persons help to know what to do, as well as all the good deeds and prayers invested, in such moments and before.


there is still this feeling of helplessness.
This is inevitable. If we accompany the terminally ill or dying persons, we have to deal with our own feelings of helplessness and the rest. This makes us understand the needs of the dying ones. How could we establish a healing support for any possible state, if we are not clear and at peace about it first by ourselves, at least to some extent.

Many things have been described as helpful: support groups, spiritual accompanying, yoga, meditation, art therapy, aromatherapy, massage, prayers.... Not all of them have the same effect, and not all of them are suitable for every person. I would expose the need for peace and the need for support/being accepted/unconditional love above all the other needs, as the process of dying brings about drastic changes in one's life, and destabilizes everything which looked firm before. It helps a lot if one can touch the person, in whatever state one is, with his own peace, firm trust and inner light. The depth of one's peace and the brightness of one's love make a huge difference, so engagement in a spiritual practice seems essential if one wishes to help the others.


All the very best,



PS: And please, do pray for the health of the sick!
We surely will!

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