I was recently in a situation at the hospital (of course) where I was sitting with a patient’s family when they received bad news. The prognosis was bad, and the doctor needed a couple of questions answered about going forward.
As often happens, the family was not grasping the severity of the situation and what the doctor was asking. Finally, he just came right out and said it: the patient will not walk out of this hospital for one reason or another, and I need to know how you want to proceed.
After the conversation, the doctor and I walked out into the hallway and left the family with the patient. Then something weird happened: the doctor turned to me and asked, “Was that okay?”
I was stunned. “I’m neither the doctor nor the patient’s family,” I said hesitantly.
“I know, but you’re the chaplain and better in touch with feelings and such.”
I told the doctor I thought the conversation was appropriate, and he seemed mollified. I, on the other hand, was still surprised that he had just asked my opinion on how his end of the conversation went. This doctor has a couple of decades of age on me and many, many more years of experience. But in an emotionally stressful situation, he still wanted to know that he had handled things okay.
He wanted affirmation.
It was a very human, equalizing moment. It was a poignant reminder that one of the things most people really want is affirmation. They want to hear that they did well.
I think affirmation generally can be summed up in three words:
You did well. That was great. You did it.
Three words can say a lot. In the hospital, people may hear lots of three-word phrases:
We’ve tried everything. It’s not good. Call your family.
But there are encouraging three-word phrases in the hospital, too:
Don’t give up. There’s still hope. We’ll keep trying. Things look better.
I don’t know what the doctor was looking for that evening. I would guess he just needed to hear something like, “that was fine.” Just three words that affirmed the job he had done.
Most people have three words they need to hear from someone.
You did well.
Believe in yourself.
You aren’t alone.
You are enough.
You really matter.
You are beautiful.
I love you.
What three words do you most need to hear?