Friday, December 11, 2009

What to Say When You Don't Know What to Say

I learned the other day that part of the aspirancy stage of the diaconate program is going to Research Hospital and learning how to minister to those who are sick and dying. I really think this would be good training for me because I stink when dealing with those who are facing troubles. I can be very empathetic but there is something there that makes it difficulty for me to convey that empathy.

It may be because of this defense that I have to put on when I go to work. I feel like at work the police have to be stoic--the ones who are being strong while everyone else can crumble around us. That's a reason that police officers develop such a dark sense of humor. When we are at scenes it seems better to crack a bad joke than to shed a tear.

That's not to say we don't offer sympathy. It's part of the job that comes with having sergeant stripes on your sleeves. I have to be the one that goes to the family members and says, "I'm sorry for your loss" and give a human touch. It seems fake to me sometimes though. Maybe it's the bullet proof vest I'm wearing or maybe it's this imaginary shield we put on when we put on the uniform.
It's a gap I want to get across though because I feel it creeping into times when I'm not on crime scenes or dealing with strangers. For example, Jackie Malena is the wife of one of the officers who works for me. She has been battling cancer since 2001 I believe?? Her husband, Joe, has worked for me since 2007. In the last two and a half years, they have traveled all over the country looking for treatment. This week it was decided that she needed to start chemo again and she will be traveling to Tulsa, OK every two weeks for the next six months for treatment.

Today, I was texting Joe and he said that he doesn't know what God's plan is. You know what---I knew every single cliche in the book to throw at him. "It's not our will--it's about God's will." or "God never gives us more than we can handle." I don't know---it just seemed cheesy and fake. I don't understand this phenomenon. All my life, I've been known as a good listener. I'm the guy to go to when you have personal problems so why do I seem so stiff when it comes to this??

I don't know. All I can say is, "Joe, you know I love you and Jackie and you guys are in my prayers." And all I can ask is for anyone reading this to offer the Malena family your prayers.


  1. Prayers are coming from Indiana! I lost my best friend in July to cancer. She was 38 and left behind a 10 year old son. It was a so hard and I never knew what to say or how to say it and if I was saying the right thing. Being my best friend she opened up to me about facing death and talked open and candid. I sat quietly and listened to her talk about facing death in the eye. She was amazing at the end had no fears. I understand no knowing what to say, but from experience say everything you can now because you never know what tomorrow may bring.......
    Prayers for the family and friends,
    Marie Wimsett

  2. I'll definitely keep Jackie, Joe, and their family in my prayers.

    You're exactly right. It can and does ring hollow when trying to offer sympathy. In cases like that, it's often best to just shut up and let them talk, or even just sit in the silence for a little while. Sometimes the best thing we can do is just tell them is to offer to pray with them, and make sure they know they'll be in your prayers. Many times, that will provide more comfort and sympathy for the family than any cliche out there.

  3. Praying for Jackie and her family. And I think you said the exact right thing!