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Compassionate Caring: Lessons On Love & Support in Hard Times

By Susan Partnow, Senior Compassionate Listening Facilitator

My family has gone through a number of extreme health crises in the past few years. As we journey through these painful territories, I’ve noticed how some of our beloveds are amazing at offering care and love in ways that are a powerful balm – and yet how others, despite their good intentions and all the love in their hearts, just don’t seem to know how. I have come to realize most of us lack great examples and no training! There is a skill set we can learn and develop. I want to share with you some of the insights my family has gathered.

Show up! Frequent signs of care and support are very appreciated: texts, emails, cards, phone calls (just leave a very brief love message– and don’t take offense if the call isn’t picked up – but that doesn’t mean you should stop calling!)

Be generous with your attention. Attention is like sustenance that nourishes a sense of being held and weaves a web of care while diminishing fear and the sense of being alone at a scary time.

Compassionately listen. Yes, LISTEN.

Do lots more listening than talking. Listen from your heart, beneath the words, to notice the feelings, state of mind, and spirit. Perhaps offer a reflection: “I can hear the sadness… I am hearing what a challenge this is…”—and allow silence, to see if there is more. Let it go if there is not.

Love ‘em up: Offer love, appreciation, admiration, memories, anecdotes, and kindness. Prayers. Offer encouragement. Resist sugar coating or minimizing the challenge or trauma. Be generous in your encouragement and faith in our capacity to meet the challenge—no matter the outcome.

Connect at a heart level. Choose times to call or visit when you are feeling grounded and present so you can tune in and be as mindful as possible. Don’t call when you are distracted or in need of care yourself.

Be gentle with questions. Be sensitive to the emotional or mental work your questions call for. Asking for updates can feel stressful and call for a lot of emotional work. Your innocent question, “How is so and so doing,” can stir a lot of pain, grief, and even discouragement. (Can you get the updates elsewhere—from other friends or family or perhaps a blog that has been set up?) Be spacious. Check in—“is this a good time?” “Do you feel like talking?” “What would be helpful right now?” “How can I support you?”

Ask before advising. Resist making suggestions or giving advice: if you have some good ideas, ask if they are desired.

Add positive, healing energy. Inspiring quotes, poems, or photos. Funny cards or cartoons. It’s great to send these by email—they can be digested when the appetite is there— and savored and looked at again.

Follow the “Ring Theory”1: The people closest to a crisis fit inside an innermost ring, and others fill outer rings the further they are from the crisis. Support, support, support and listen IN. Seek your personal support and outlets for venting or worrying OUT to your next layer:

Source: Illustration by Wes Bausmith

NOTE: You need support too! Make sure you have your own circle of support—2 to 4 people you can go to for your empathy needs.

Gifts? Unnecessary—but if you like to give something, offer flowers, books, magazines, or food.

These ideas are offered with care. May we all learn to be skillful in offering our Compassionate Caring along with our Compassionate Listening.


You can join Susan at her upcoming workshops:

1 Premack Sandler, E. (2017, May 30). Ring Theory Helps Us Bring Comfort In. Psychology Today.

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