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Emotional-Strength Training: How to Visit The Sick: Energy Express

By Marilynn Preston

Eventually, it happens to all of us. One minute, a loved one is healthy and happy, and you're mildly annoyed about something silly like why is she always late for our tennis game--and the next minute, life does a 180. She has breast cancer. Or he has a heart attack. Next thing you know, they're in treatment, or a hospital, seriously ill, perhaps even dying, very much in need of a friend.

That friend is you. Are you up to the task? Do you know what to say?

By Marilynn Preston

Eventually, it happens to all of us. One minute, a loved one is healthy and happy, and you're mildly annoyed about something silly like why is she always late for our tennis game --and the next minute, life does a 180. She has breast cancer. Or he has a heart attack. Next thing you know, they're in treatment, or a hospital, seriously ill, perhaps even dying, very much in need of a friend.

That friend is you. Are you up to the task? Do you know what to say? Probably not. When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, we have all sorts of books to tell us how to build bigger biceps and tighter abs. But good advice on emotional-strength training is much harder to find. And just as important.

"Finding out a friend or family member has a life-threatening illness can knock you off your foundations," says Susan Apollon, a psychotherapist who works with people who are seriously ill themselves or grieving for others. "It brings all sorts of intense issues -- death, dying, loss, love, spirituality -- to the surface. Many people have no idea what to do with the powerful emotions that well up. No wonder we don't know how to 'be there' for a loved one. We really don't know how to 'be there' for ourselves."

So here are some of Apollon's best ideas for dealing with a sick friend, based on her new book "Touched by the Extraordinary." (Matters of the Soul, 2005)


  • Set your intention. "If your intention is to help your friend laugh and feel good and enjoy her life while you are with her, then clearly state that intention before you leave for the hospital," advises Apollon. "Hold that intention throughout the visit. If your intention is to rush to the hospital, make perfunctory small talk for 10 minutes and flee before things get too heavy, well, you'll achieve that, too. But it won't feel good for either of you."
  • Stop worrying about what you're going to say. People obsess over that, Apollon says, when in truth, the words you say aren't nearly as important as coming from a place of love. "Focus on your love for that person. Let that love fill your heart and overflow the room." The person you're visiting will feel it, and the words you use won't matter.
  • Keep it real. Don't say something you don't believe, like "I know you will beat this disease." The person you're visiting knows what's phony, and it creates a sense of disconnect. Simple phrases like, "It's good to see you" or "I've missed you" are fine. If you're absolutely at a loss for words, it's OK to say, "I don't know what to say or do, but I am here and I care about you."
  • Create a distraction. Ask how other family members are doing, books read, movies seen. Come in with a funny story of your own. "The more you get your friend to focus on something other than his own body, the more endorphins you help your loved one release," says Apollon. "And the better he feels."
  • Use your breath. "When I am sitting quietly with a patient, I use my breath to help him calm down. I take long slow breaths that slow my body down. I allow my breath to be audible enough that the patient can hear it. The result is that my breath connects with his. We get in sync. By establishing this connection, I am better able to send love and healing energy to the patient. This is not some sort of special ability. It happens naturally. Anyone can do it."
  • Make sure you are in a place of peace before you visit. This is probably the most important tip of all, says Apollon. "If you don't feel peaceful, calm and centered, take 15 minutes to quiet yourself before you visit. Hold on to that sense of peace throughout your visit," says Apollon.

Susan Apollon's advice may seem too New Agey for some, but from my own experience, her basic message is sound and well worth passing along. Someday, I am sorry to say, you will need it.

ENERGY EXPRESS-0! WHY ALL OF THIS MATTERS
"What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?" --George Eliot

Marilynn Preston -- fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues -- is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.
COPYRIGHT 2006 ENERGY EXPRESS, LTD.
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.



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