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How To Be A Shelter For Friends and Family Caught in Life’s Storms

By: Shawn Murphy

Whether a friend or family member has recently received a difficult diagnosis or is reeling from a personal loss, each of us can provide shelter and comfort to those caught in life’s storms. We all have the ingredients necessary to do so. We need only a compassionate heart, empathetic ears, helping hands and watchful eyes.

1). Compassionate Heart

Giving shelter starts with a compassionate heart. Compassion is the natural emotion that one feels in the response to the suffering of others. It is unnatural to ignore pain and suffering in ourselves or others. In its purest essence, it simply comes back to the golden rule: “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” Without this essential first step of feeling love and caring, the act of mercy – reaching out to help others in their time of need – would never happen.

2). Empathetic Ears

Being a shelter to others involves empathetic ears and good listening skills. It is important to let the hurting or grieving person know that it is okay to share what they are feeling and to allow them to determine the timing of when or if they decide to share.

Equally important is how we listen. Our role is to be empathetic listeners who seek to understand, accept, and acknowledge feelings in a safe environment and validate the emotions while withholding judgment.

3). Helping Hands

Providing shelter to others involves acts of mercy; showing kindness and lending helping hands to those who are in a difficult or even desperate situation. For a person or family who is in the midst of illness or loss, helping in practical ways is greatly appreciated, with continued support over the long haul and providing extra help on special days.

There are many practical ways to help a grieving person. You can offer to pick up groceries, run errands, provide meals, receive phone calls, help with paperwork, do housework, watch children, look after pets, take them to lunch, or share an enjoyable activity with them.

The goal is to let them know they are loved and to demonstrate your care by personally helping and providing ongoing support.

4). Watchful Eyes

Finally, offering shelter also involves offering watchful eyes. It is normal for anyone who has just learned of a cancer diagnosis or is caregiving for someone through a protracted illness or who may have experienced the loss of a loved one to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression or similar types of issues.

However, professional help may be in order if over time the symptoms do not fade. Watchful eyes should look for signs such as inability to function in daily life, extreme focus on death, excessive bitterness, anger, or guilt, neglecting personal hygiene, alcohol or drug abuse, inability to enjoy life, hallucinations, withdrawal from others, constant feelings of hopelessness, talking about dying or suicide. If these signs are present, please encourage your friend or family member to seek professional help.



Shawn Murphy serves as Director of Community Relations and liaison to CURE Childhood Cancer on behalf of Summit Counseling Center in Johns Creek, GA. For information about CURE’s Partners in Caring Counseling Program, please contact Karen McCarthy at [email protected] or (770)986-0035 ext. 26.


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