Cancer visits Darryl's small group.
Darryl is leading a couples' small group that meets every week. All of the couples have young children—newborns to age six. Darryl and his wife have enjoyed getting to know other parents, and they've grown close. Plus, they love how their children are forming close relationships with the other children.
During last week's prayer requests, Donna and James updated the group on a frequent prayer request: Donna's health. Donna had not been feeling well for several weeks, and she hadn't improved. They were finally going to be able to see a specialist to determine what was wrong. Darryl led the group in an extended prayer time for Donna and the family. Now they've been waiting all week to hear the prognosis.
When Donna and James arrive, Darryl can tell they're a bit withdrawn. They don't talk as much during the discussion time, and Donna seems to have even less energy than normal. When they get to prayer time, one of the women in the group asks Donna for an update. With tears in their eyes, Donna and James share that Donna has been diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. They are scared and worried about all the treatments. On top of that, they have two daughters, ages four and two, and they will need some help taking care of them during the process.
Darryl is shocked by the news, yet he feels the group should help in some way. What should Darryl do?
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The group should immediately surround Donna and James in prayer. A group laying on of hands, or hug, would be appropriate as members of the small group pray internally and aloud for them. After, the other members of the group should rally around Donna & James. Darryl should ask someone to coordinate meals so that they do not have to worry about that. Someone else can coordinate rides to dr. appts and kemo. Other parents should also reach out to the kids so that they do not feel lost in this process. Darryl should also contact Donna & James minister in order that the church can minister to the family as well during this difficult time. Keeping in mind that a listening ear & prayer is the best remedy.
First off, just cry with them and hug on them. Set up a list of people to help with the childcare issue. Offer to be there at the hospital with them for moral support anytime they feel they need it. Alert the church so meals can be provided and help with household chores if/when Donna is depleted from treatments. PRAY. Basically, walk along side them. Guys, keep regular contact to be a sounding board to just listen to James. Plan some just plain fun outings for their two daughters with your own kids. These two will probably struggle with being very needy for quite awhile. Let them know that is OK even though it may not feel good. DO NOT give out pat answers and say "we understand" unless you have faced the same. DO talk to others that have been on this road to get ideas of what helped them. If Donna and James are open to it, connect them to those people. Love on them. Give them the freedom to feel and express whatever they feel; fear, anger, etc.
My wife and I have spent the last 30 years living with the aftermath of cancer in a child of ours (he survived, but there are long-term physical and psychological effects), and have had a number of close friends both survive and die from cancer. The most important thing people can do is to 1) listen; 2) don't talk / offer advice unless you really know what you're talking about; 3) let the patient/parents/family remain in control. The last is the most difficult for "well-meaning" others. Always ask first before praying for someone or doing anything else "helpful." And do so in a way that makes it clear it really is up to them and that if they say "no", that's fine.
I feel that Darryl should express empathy for Donna and James and acknowledge that as much as the news is a shock for the group, it must have been a mammoth blow to the couple. Perhaps Darryl should say, "This is a shock to us all...maybe we all need to take a few minutes to sit in prayerful silence." After a period that Darryl feels has been sufficient, he might say, "Donna and James, we love you and want to be sensitive to your needs. Would it be helpful to hear what group members are feeling right now?" If, "No", then Darryl's reply might be..."What would be most helpful to you right now?" or "Would it be ok for us to pray for you right now?" If yes, the Darryl might want to ask a male group member to sit besde James, and a woman to sit beside Donna, maybe taking them by the hand or putting an arm around them while Darryl prays. If the couple expresses a need to hear from group members, then Darryl might invite group members to share what they are feeling audibly or in a note.