Sickness is one of the hardest experiences of human beings. The sick person doesn’t only endure that she feels her life threatened and suffers without knowing why, for what, and how long. Also her family suffers, her loved ones and those who attend her.
Of little use are words and explications. What to do when science can no long hold back the inevitable? How to confront deterioration humanly? How to be next to the family member or friend who’s seriously ill?
You start by coming close to them. The one who’s suffering can’t be helped from afar. You need to be close. Without hurry, discretely and with complete respect. Help them struggle against pain. Give them energy to work together with those who try to heal them.
This demands that we accompany them at the various stages of the sickness and in the different states of strength. Offer them what they need at each moment. Don’t get upset when they’re irritable. Have patience. Stick with them.
It’s important to listen. Let the sick tell and share what’s happening inside: the frustrated hopes, their complaints and fears, their anxiety about the future. It’s a breath of fresh air for the sick to be able to unload on someone they trust. It’s not always easy to listen. It requires putting ourselves in the place of those who suffer, and be attentive to what they say with their words and above all with their silences, gestures and gazes.
True listening demands welcoming and understanding the reactions of the sick. Misunderstanding deeply wounds those who are suffering and complaining. It’s no use to give counsels, reasons or wise explications. The only thing that can relieve them is the understanding of those who accompany them with kindness and respect.
The sick can adopt healthy and positive attitudes in the face of sickness, or they can allow themselves to be destroyed by sterile and negative feelings. Often they will need help to trust and work with those who attend them, so that they don’t just close themselves in the pain, they need help to have patience with themselves or to be grateful.
The sick can also need to be reconciled with themselves, to heal wounds of the past, to find a deeper meaning to their suffering, to purify their relationship with God. The believer can then help them to pray, to live with inner peace, to believe in God’s forgiveness and to trust in God’s saving love.
Mark the evangelist tells us that people brought their sick and possessed to Jesus. He knew how to welcome them tenderly, awaken their trust in God, forgive their sin, relieve their pain and heal their sickness. His way of acting in the face of human suffering will always be for Christians the example to follow in our treatment of the sick.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf