Having the tough conversations

By Jane Maisey & Nina Watts-Carrier

People often avoid having difficult conversations as they are afraid that they will say the wrong thing. How can we support those who are suffering, physically or emotionally?

A simple re-frame can help – if we see it as an opportunity, instead of a risk, it might entice us to take action. Recognition connects us as humans and supporting others can be as simple and as important as being present to another’s pain and bearing witness to their struggle, but not judging or trying to lessen their pain. It is about curiosity and learning, not expertise and teaching. Acknowledging the importance of someone’s story and truly being present with them is an integral part of the human experience that is often overlooked.

To avoid the tough conversations is to miss out on the chance to grieve and grow together, to miss out on strengthening our relationships with others and bring the good in our lives into sharper focus.

“Hi, my name is Jane, and I’m from the Pastoral Care department…”

How would you react to this statement?

Perhaps hesitation, confusion or curiosity?

I am currently a pastoral care student at St Vincent’s Hospital. This reflection is focused on encountering the unknown; embracing another exactly where they are, letting go of fear while walking together…

As Forest Gump said: “Life’s like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get!”  As I enter into a patient’s area I can never be sure of how they will be what kind of chocolate will I taste?

It’s natural to have hesitations; will they be angry, will they want me there? After acknowledging our fears we must let go of them. Walking into the area of another must be taken step by step without fear, judgement or hesitation. A kind of self-emptying must take place, a true letting go of what might be, and an embrace of what is. We must embrace whatever chocolate we receive; savouring an enveloping love that can only come through relinquishment of fear.

As an example: A couple of weeks ago I encountered a patient who was very angry and frustrated. He re-acted harshly to my greeting; initially you could say that he was a kind of chocolate that you might be quite happy to give back! It would have been easy for me to walk away, but even though it was an awkward encounter I remained with him. I could sense his frustration at his situation. I trusted the process, kept calm and remained with him; not leading or guiding, letting him carry the direction. As he spoke I simply listened and when it was time, I asked him appropriate questions. Eventually he calmed, and by the time I left he told me I was glowing and thanked me profusely – bitter to sweet indeed.

By letting go of fear and embracing whatever chocolate we are gifted, we allow ourselves to be transformed by love. We must trust the process of companioning and pastoral care; embracing whatever taste comes our way with agape.

~ Jane Maisey


There is nothing better or more necessary than love."

--St. John of the Cross

“The worst fear of all fears is the fear of living.”

~ Theodore Roosevelt

"Fear makes us ultimately vulnerable to domination while interior freedom makes us strong enough to face whatever needs to be faced without either temerity or cowardice"

~ Sandra Schneiders

Jane is currently based in Sydney. She is on the Emmaus Journey (novitiate) with the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. You can also learn more about her journey here: designjane.com