“Of all the virtues we can learn, no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Psychologist and author of Flow: The Psychology of Happiness
I first read the above quote in a little book, insBEARations: Warm Words of Encouragement, by Ron Winnegrad. Along with a teddy bear and body lotion, a truly wonderful and caring friend delivered this adorable book to my doorstep the day before my recent back surgery. As I unwrapped her present, my friend’s generous spirit and thoughtful gift brought tears to my eyes. I was deeply touched by this unexpected act of kindness.
I’ve shared on my blog and Facebook that the past month has been incredibly challenging for me as I’ve fought to overcome surgeries, hospitalizations and trips to the emergency room. What I initially believed would be a relatively short recovery from back surgery has been mired by complications, leaving me and those who love me reeling and stressed. I’m honestly not sure if I will ever be able to view this period of adversity as an enjoyable challenge, as the Csikszentmihalyi quote suggests, but I am able to look at this period of time and see that my experience has had positive aspects.
Sometimes it’s just so hard to know what to do when a friend or family member is facing a serious challenge. In the past few months, as a patient and on the receiving end of kindness, I’ve realized there are three very effective ways to offer help to someone who is struggling.
1) Be Specific
Like so many people, I’m an incredibly independent person who finds it difficult to ask others for help. When friends and family generously make the offer of “Call if you need me” or “Let me know if there is anything I can do for you,” I am very unlikely to call or ask for help. Yet, if someone says, “I’m heading to the grocery store; what do you need me to pick up for you,” I’m likely to tell them what I need because I don’t feel that I’m imposing on them. I had a neighbor who, after one of my previous surgeries, sent me a text which read, “I’m at the grocery store and the watermelon looks great, may I bring you some?” Of the many offers I received, this was the only one I accepted because, again, I did not feel that I was imposing on the person. Instead of asking friends in the future, “May I bring you dinner,” I plan to say that “I’m picking up dinner for you” and ask which night works best. It’s a subtle difference but an important one to me because I don’t like to inconvenience other people.
2) Short Visits
I’m not one who likes a lot of visitors when I’m in the hospital. Honestly, there aren’t many people I’d want to see me with my unwashed hair, hospital gown and IVs. I prefer visits once I’m home and feeling stronger and more rested. The caveat is that I want these visits, whether at home or in the hospital to be short because I may not have the energy to “entertain” my guests.
3) Unexpected words and tokens of affection
The gift that was left on my doorstep the day before my surgery meant so much to me because it was completely unexpected. Another friend made a very brief hospital visit to bring me a pair of fuzzy slippers that said, “Happy is the new pretty.” These two gifts and the many cards and flowers I received let me know that other people were thinking about me. They made me smile and eased the burden of the challenges I was facing. Let me be clear, it was not about the specific gift that I received; it was about the caring thoughts behind the gifts. I found the comments and words of encouragement left on my Facebook timeline and email messages with words of support to be extremely comforting; these buoyed my spirit when I would awaken at 4 a.m. in the hospital, unable to fall back to sleep. I truly believe that all of those thoughts and prayers pulled me through this experience.
So, the next time I have a friend or loved one who is facing a challenging time, I’m hoping I can make his or her journey just a little easier by recalling the lessons I’ve learned from those who have loved and supported me on my own healing journey. Hugs to all who did this for me.
Photo Credit: Image of woman with cup by Silviarita used under CC by 2.0