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‘We all need companions willing to listen to us’

Friday October 10, 2014 Written by Published in Virtues in Paradise
‘We all need companions willing to listen to us’

One of the things I learned when serving as Spiritual Care Director at a Hospice was that dying people don’t really want someone to cheer them up.
They need someone to meet them wherever they may be on a given day, someone who can be compassionate yet comfortable with their tears, their confusion, their worries, or their humour. 
When any of us is hurting, feeling loss, grief, confusion, anger, or joy for that matter, the last thing we need is for someone to talk us out of it.
Quaker theologian Douglas Steere said, “To listen another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery is almost the greatest service any human being ever performs for another.” 
I don’t know why we are so ready to come up with little sayings, like ‘it’s okay’ ‘be strong’ and ‘you need to fight this’.
Not to mention all manner of sayings about God’s will, as if we can speak for Him.
One day when I was at the airport, a woman I had recently met beckoned me over to sit with her.
She told me she was leaving the island to visit a sister in Auckland who was very ill.
She said, “I don’t know why she asks for me. She’s surrounded by family. And I visited her a couple of months ago.”
“What do you do that is different?” I asked her.
“Well, they all tell her to fight it, and I don’t. I just sit with her and listen and hold her hand.”
 “To me, that is called ‘spiritual companioning’”, I said.
“She must feel peaceful when you are there.”
“Yes, she does seem to calm down.”
Then she asked an important question.
“What do I do when she cries?” I said, “When she cries, use your compassionate curiosity and ask her ‘What are those tears?’ and then listen. If she can no longer speak, say ‘Good on you, Sis, bless your healing tears.’”
Her face lit up and she said, “I can do that. And I’ll ask God to make her well.”
“Do you honestly think she is going to get well?”
Sadly, she shook her head. “Well, maybe it’s best to ask God to do His will and to give her mercy. Only God knows how long she is meant to live.”
She cried a bit and I sat with her, holding her hand.
Then I said, “I’ll tell you a great secret. Before you see her, put a shield over your heart of detachment and compassion, so that you can be with her without taking on her feelings.” 
We hugged and I told her “Your sister is really blessed to have your compassionate presence at a time like this.” Then she went out to board the plane.
Her sister did die, and I’m sure my friend’s peaceful, accepting presence was a mercy for her in her last days, giving her a more graceful end of life experience.
We all need companions willing to listen to us at any time of life.

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