Like most people, I believe my dog is the most awesome one in the world. She’s a sweet, caring chocolate lab who always tries to comfort me as I’ve gone through my cancer treatments.
There have been times when I was laying on the couch, absolutely miserable, and Cocoa would come up to me, and just stand there looking into my eyes. Sometimes she would lay her head down on the cushion beside mine. She wasn’t seeking attention or wanting to be pet, she was just staying with me until I felt better.
A couple of times, before I realized what she was doing, I would pat her head and tell her to go lie down. I was too tired and weak to give her the attention I thought she wanted. But when I told her to go, she would just look at me. Normally, she was very eager to please and do what she was told. But on the bad days, she just sat there ignoring me. I put a hand on her head as I laid my head down on the couch.
Slowly I scratched her head and as I did so, I could feel peace and comfort flow from her to me.
I know that sounds kinda crazy but that’s what happened. She sensed my need and was there for me, even when I tried to shoo her away.
One time, I was heading to the bathroom, unsure if I would make it in time. I ducked into the bathroom and she followed me right in.
Now let me set the scene—this bathroom is the tiniest one I have ever been in. From a seated position, you can touch all of the walls, wash your hands, reach the door and light switch. There is literally nothing in this room that you cannot reach without moving, so when she tried to come in with me, I thought, No way. There isn’t room for two of us.
I also thought how odd it was she had never tried to come in before. I was home alone so I decided that I would leave the door open so she could be most of the way in with me. She laid her head on my knee and just looked at me. Not wanting anything more than to comfort me.
Just her presence helped, I wasn’t alone, there was someone who cared even if they did have four feet and a tail. She stayed with me the whole time, refusing to leave even when I told her to. It was almost as though I could see her shaking her head, “Nope, not leaving you.” It was amazing to me how she always knew when I needed her.
Have you ever wondered what to say or do for someone going through a disease like this? The typical things to say always seem woefully inadequate. How do you comfort someone with cancer or some other terminal illness?
You could say, “It’ll be OK,” but that’s not really helpful and not necessarily true. “Things always work out for the best” is even worse.
So what do you do? What do you say? How do you comfort your friend or loved one?
Well, take a lesson from Cocoa and be a dog, just be like a dog. Dogs don’t worry about saying the right thing. They don’t try to be wise. They just comfort those that are hurting.
You see, to comfort your loved one, you don’t have to say anything—just sit there with them. Talk if they want to or sit quietly. The fact is there’s nothing you can say that will change their diagnosis. There’s nothing you can do to stop the onslaught of fear they are facing. However, you can be present with them. Like Cocoa, you can relieve the loneliness and provide strength just by being there.
One of the hardest parts of going through this is that you’re constantly bombarded with thoughts of illness, treatment, death, loved ones, the list goes on and on. To have a friend come over and visit, or meet for coffee is a great distraction. Sometimes I want to talk about things and other times I don’t. Let your loved one lead the conversation.
One time I was talking with my pastor about what I was going through after one of my surgeries. I was absolutely miserable. I told him, “It just really sucks.” I prepared myself for some clichés or the typical Christian answers, but he just looked at me and said, “Yeah, that does suck.”
He wasn’t trying to fix me, he just let me say how I felt. His agreement validated me. Sometimes, in our desire for a friend to feel better, we say things that don’t help or just end up making them feel more alone.
While I am a Christian and take strength from prayer and God’s word, I also feel encouragement from my non-Christian friends. Their thoughts and encouragement mean so much.
So remember, you can’t fix it, so don’t try to.
Sit and watch TV together—you don’t have to say a word but your very presence will remind them that they aren’t alone.
And don’t forget, if you don’t know what to do or say . . . just be a dog!