I do not know what is worse, being the one who is ill or witnessing a loved one being sick. Though both sides experience suffering, each brings its own kind of pain. There is an overwhelming sense of helplessness when we realize that we cannot make someone else’s pain disappear. This feeling is so painful and strong that we sometimes choose to keep our distance from another’s pain. Fear will sometimes make us choose to only say a prayer from home, even when we know we are being called to more.
When I was pregnant with our third child, I spent six weeks in the hospital under strict bedrest orders; the days were long and lonely. Other than a nurse popping in every now and again, I mostly just looked at the ceiling and slept. My husband would bring our two young boys to see me every evening after work. This was the highlight of my day. We would eat dinner, hang out and watch tv. Nothing major, just being a family together doing ordinary things. Their presence changed everything for me. At least for a little while each day, my loneliness would disappear. When the days were dark and long, I did not have to look too far ahead. I would just have to hang on until evening… When my hospital room would fill with love and become home.
No one should walk through the darkness of illness alone. What is the first thing we look for when we are afraid? We look for a hand to grab; we look for a hand to squeeze. Like a wine press extracting the juice from a grape, we squeeze hard… until drops of courage flow from them to us. When another human accompanies us with love, we drink from their presence. We take in God’s love. In a very real way, they become Eucharist for us.
It is not easy to accompany the sick in their pain. It takes love, and it takes courage. It takes getting comfortable in the discomfort of not knowing what to say. It takes coming to terms with our own frailty, our own limitedness… We must come to terms with our inability to make everything better for them.
The only way to learn is to do it, knowing you will make mistakes. Walk with the sick; walk with the lonely; do not look away. Do not think you would rather remember them how they were. They need you now. Stay.