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Rule 7: Make One Life Better Today

I once worked with a young woman who was dying of cancer. At the time, I was still young in my practice and somewhat uncomfortable with death. I knew how to help people cope with loss, but how do you help someone who is dying? My therapeutic style was problem-solving. In this instance, I was confronted with a problem I couldn't solve. And reading all the death and dying books in the world doesn't help when sitting across from someone who is dying. So I just listened to her. And cried with her. What I remember most, though, was laughing with her. Even when she was so weak and nauseous from the chemo that she could barely walk, she could still laugh.

I learned much from my weekly sessions with her. Later clients benefited from the lessons I gained in working with her. Interestingly enough, I learned that the problem-solving approach of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is still a useful approach when someone is dying or grieving for other reasons. However, the problem to solve wasn't dying but HOW to die. How can a person put the pieces of her life in order and die with integrity?

Homeless man with dog--Make One Life Better Today Before she died she gave me a card that said “If you have helped one person in your lifetime, your life has meaning.” I know she meant that as a “thank you” to me. But what she didn't know, and I didn't know at the time, was that the card was really about her. Through her death and my greater understanding of dying, so many other people have been helped. I dedicate this rule to her memory so that each person who is touched by this is another person she has helped.

How do you go about making one life better?

1) Making one life better does not have to be difficult.
It can be as simple as smiling at someone or genuinely thanking someone. Let someone know they did a good job when they help you. Be pleasant with customer service people (who often deal with a lot of criticism). Be generous with your time or money. Listen to someone. Rescue an animal. Visit the sick. There are probably as many ways to make one life better as there are lives.

2) You may not always know at the moment if you helped.
Sometimes when you feel the most helpless, you may be the most helpful. As I said earlier, when I worked with the client who was dying, I listened to her. Not because I knew that was the best thing to do. But because I felt helpless. Yet, it turned out that listening was the best thing to do. She didn't have anyone else who would just listen because listening to someone who is dying is painful for the listener. Just being with someone in their pain can be very powerful.

3) You don't need to determine whether your help is meaningful.
Many times when people help they want to know that they made a difference. Which is why many people will focus on solving a problem because a positive outcome shows they helped. However, you don't have to solve problems to be helpful.

A statement from another client of mine sticks out in my mind. She said, “I always give to the homeless. I don't care whether some of them may take advantage of me. I just care about the one that may need my help.”

I don't mean that you have to do the same thing as her. However, you can't always know the outcome of your help and whether it was beneficial or not. And that is okay. The most important thing is that you made the effort.

Kindle Books by
Dr. Monica Frank

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