Compassion is defined by Dictionary.com as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering”. That sounds about right to me. In situation like natural disasters, we all feel so very sorry for those affected and we reach into our pockets to make donations to relief efforts to help to the best of our abilities. However, in situations where a loved one is diagnosed with cancer or a colleague loses his job or a friend is going through an ugly divorce, the lines are not so easily defined.
Each person’s experience and reaction is as uniquely different as is our own fingerprint. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, the last thing that is needed is for someone to start telling them what they should do, how they should be thinking, what the best course of action will be and what course of treatment will be the best.
The problem is not with the first part of this definition. Regardless of the situation, we do have “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow” for the other person. But the confusion arises when we try to put into play our “strong desire to alleviate the suffering”. Let’s take the example of a loved one being diagnosed with cancer. We may have had a personal experience with dealing with cancer or we may know someone else who has. The first thing that we want to do is share our personal experiences because we are sure that by doing so, we are helping the other person. But, this is anything but the best approach.
Each person’s experience and reaction is as uniquely different as is our own fingerprint. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, the last thing that is needed is for someone to start telling them what they should do, how they should be thinking, what the best course of action will be and what course of treatment will be the best. And despite what anyone else advises, true compassion will only come if you allow your loved one to deal with the situation in only one way and that is the way that the patient chooses. True compassion comes with your standing by them to help and support them in any way possible with a closed mouth that allows for not telling them what to do. This is a medical situation and therefore, it should be dealt with by helping the patient to secure medical assistance from someone that they trust and letting the medical decisions be decided between the doctor(s) and the patient.
This may be the toughest thing that a person will ever have to experience but you will be of most value and assistance to your loved one by being a good listener and providing whatever other assistance that you can for them and their family. If you are asked for your opinion, even if you have had a similar experience, try to gently explain that you have such a limited perspective and that they would probably do best by asking the same questions of medical personnel who have had extensive experience with lots of people in this arena. You might offer to go along to the doctor’s office for appointments so that you can take notes on what is being discussed so that you have as accurate information as possible but you will do your loved one and yourself the biggest favor by not being part of any decision to be made.
I know that I was very fortunate in this arena as my husband and those few people around me who did know what was happening did not try to force their ideas, opinions, thoughts, directions, etc. on me but allowed me to make my own decisions because that is what I wanted to do. I was the one who had cancer and if I made a wrong decision about a course of action or treatment, it was my choice and no one else would ever have had to feel guilty if something they advised had been my ultimate choice and something had gone wrong. That was the ultimate way in which I could be compassionate to those who were also suffering because of my cancer.
Barbara Jacoby is an award winning blogger that has contributed her writings to multiple online publications that have touched readers worldwide.