They Need Their Friends
DURING his daily work a Christian answered the telephone. It was the wife of a fellow Christian: “Oh, brother, the doctor has told me that my husband has only three months to live. I don’t know how to tell him. I suddenly thought of you. Please, are you willing to speak to him?” After a few seconds came the answer: “Certainly. I hope to see him tomorrow morning.”
Next morning, the two men greeted each other heartily. After drinking a cup of coffee, the visitor asked how his sick friend was feeling. “Just fine. The operation was successful. It is now a matter of regaining strength.”
“That sounds encouraging. It shows that you are of good heart. As a servant of God you can always be cheerful, even if your recovery is delayed, perhaps longer than you count on now. But whatever may come, we can endure all things in the power of our heavenly Father, can’t we?”
The patient, also a man matured by life, looked intently into the eyes of his friend. “Hey! Do you know something about me that I don’t know myself?” His visitor answered calmly: “Yes, indeed. The doctor spoke to your wife, and what he said was serious. He thinks your life is in danger. Of course, he is the first doctor to give an opinion, but it shows that we should do something. Wouldn’t it be wise to see another doctor who might be able to help you with a different form of treatment? You wouldn’t be the first patient who lived much longer than the doctors predicted. But wouldn’t it be better to organize matters now, in case your illness gets worse? I am willing to help you in any way you ask.”
This conversation went on longer, but we have heard enough to see clearly how honest and helpful it proved to be. Patients have a right to know the truth about their condition, especially if they ask about it.
WHY DO WE SOMETIMES HESITATE?
We are perhaps somewhat reluctant to visit someone whose life will shortly come to an end. We see and feel the destructive power of death close by and it frightens us. (Heb. 2:14, 15) But, please—as in all cases where your friends are in great difficulties—do not think of yourself in such situations. Proverbs 17, verse 17, does not say for nothing: “A true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress.” For, as a member of the Christian congregation, your brother or sister needs you now more than ever. Do not allow the distressed situation of your sick friend to cause you to be governed by emotion rather than by concern for his real needs. Think of his best interests, and be a good friend. It will remove your tenseness, and the deep joy of serving others will heal your sorrow.
WHAT TO SAY?
When visiting someone who is very ill, the best thing is to realize that he will not be helped by an assumed cheerfulness. The kindly question “Would you like me to sit with you for a moment?” might give a good start. Such questions as “How do you feel?” or “Can I do anything for you?” may show you what the patient wants to talk about. If he is afraid of unknown things to come, it will be very difficult for him to speak about them. One cannot easily tell what is going on inside his mind and heart. But if the patient should care to speak about the gloomy prospect of his illness, do not interrupt with such misdirected utterances as: “Oh, you mustn’t think about that! You’ll get better.” Agree honestly with him that things may turn out for the worst, but that even then he can put everything in the capable hands of his heavenly Father.—Phil. 4:6, 7.
You might say: ‘Would you like me to read some fine words from the Bible?’ These comforting words will have a faith-inspiring influence. Patients like the Psalms because the deep feelings of a person in distress and his cry for help to Jehovah are wonderfully revealed in them.
Persons who are dangerously ill are usually very tired and do not have the strength to keep up a conversation. So there is no need to speak much in such situations. Sitting quietly beside the person’s bed and holding his or her hand can, in itself, be a source of comfort. Even though they do not ask for a prayer, our friends having the possibility of death before them will appreciate it very much if fellow Christians seek the opportunity of joining in prayer. If you can find words of full faith in Jehovah’s desire and power to support your friend in this difficult situation, both of you will share a lofty moment of unity in spirit.
Although we should never press a very ill person to make arrangements for the time he will not be alive, it is good to watch for the moment he would like to speak about this. It will comfort him tremendously if his Christian friends promise to take care of everything after he has fallen asleep in death—especially his wife and children or, in the case of a woman, her husband. Perhaps it is necessary to put something in writing if guardianship has to be arranged or competencies have to be transferred. Consulting a lawyer gives better assurance that the last wishes will be carried out.
Of course, our visits do not always have to be as serious as we have just described. It depends on the situation in which you find your sick friend. Patients often like to be remembered as they were during happy moments in their life. Do you know of a pleasant experience you shared with him? Relate it and you can be sure that after you have left, the patient will dwell on these heartwarming memories. You can bring deep feelings of happiness to the heart of a zealous servant of Jehovah who is now unable to do anything in the field of preaching the “good news.” Remind him of all he did in this respect in the past. Commend patients warmly for their perseverance and the fine example they set as they endure their sufferings with faith and cheerfulness.—Heb. 6:10.
CONQUER YOUR FEAR
You will agree that those who have resigned themselves to the possibility that sickness or an accident can bring our lives to an end are in a better position to help others who have to face imminent death. It is evidence of maturity not to deny realities we may all be required to face.
But if fear of death is gnawing at us, what can we do to overcome these bad feelings and dark thoughts? First of all, do not try to ignore your fears. Take time to meditate about the uncertainties of this life and the solution God gives. Friends of God, the heavenly Source of life, can consider this matter in a realistic yet balanced way. They know what death actually is: an unconscious sleep without pain or terrors. (John 11:11-14) Jesus taught freely that the dead will be resurrected, saying: “Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out.” (John 5:28, 29) Although Jesus was executed by his opposers, he was brought back to life by his heavenly Father. After this miracle, the apostle Paul writes, “he appeared to upward of five hundred brothers at one time, the most of whom remain to the present.” (1 Cor. 15:3-8) Yes, indeed, there was abundant testimony to Christ’s resurrection.
Christians know that the life they rejoice in at the moment is not the most important thing. Having divine approval is worth much more, “as it holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.” (1 Tim. 4:8) And be sure that Jehovah will give the strength to face death at the moment we are in real need of it.—Ps. 46:1.
“BUT NOT LEFT IN THE LURCH”
Should you feel sure that the illness you have now has a dark outlook, then it is really necessary to maintain your spiritual balance. Perhaps such questions as: ‘But why me?’ are bubbling up in you. Fears and deep feelings of abandonment may harass you. Fight them. Be the master of your thoughts and keep them under control. You are still alive and Jehovah is nearby. Realize that the Devil would like to play on your own weakness in trying to weaken your faith in God and his promise. But you are not fighting a solitary fight. Jehovah will not ‘leave you in the lurch.’—2 Cor. 4:9.
Look for friends to help you, especially those who have already overcome many difficulties in the power of Jehovah. Hold fast your faith in all of God’s promises. Look ahead to the time you will return to life and will see all of Jehovah’s blessings. What a time that will be! Living to eternity without pain and sorrows, together with real friends. Jehovah God wants all of us to live forever. Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life.”—John 11:25.
REMEMBER YOUR MOURNING FRIENDS
Should it be that a Christian brother or sister has fallen asleep in death, do not forget his close relatives. That is the time to place yourself in their situation. Can you imagine how they feel after such bereavement? They have to go on with their normal daily lives, but are still deeply wounded. Now is the time they are in need of their friends—friends, however, who are able to listen. To have someone listen once more to accounts of what the husband, wife or child said or did can be soothing and comforting. It is impossible for them to forget their departed loved ones all at once. Meanwhile, you can help them to take up their own lives once more.
You can do so much for your mourning friends. A telephone call or an unexpected invitation for a meal are among the possibilities. Could you have them share in your personal Bible study? Have all the official and financial formalities been arranged? Do they have enough money to live on, and if not, are we willing to help them with some of what Jehovah has given us?
It is clear when our friends need us in a special way—in times of grief, anxiety, and even fear. Jesus gave his parable about the good Samaritan also for our benefit at such times. Let it never be written about us: He “went by on the opposite side,” as the priest and Levite did in Jesus’ story. (Luke 10:29-37) We understand much better now what is written in Ecclesiastes, chapter 7, verse 2: “Better is it to go to the house of mourning than to go to the banquet house.” And James wrote: “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.” (Jas. 1:27) May Jehovah bless us in doing so!