Friday, May 8, 2009
Getting It Wrong
When my dad had cancer, something happened that caused him great pain. It was not the surgery or the chemo treatments or the feeling crappy for days after the treatments or the weakness when his immune system was trashed or the fear that he would get some bug while it was low. It was something else entirely, and he never talked about it at all. It was only after a long time had passed that my mother told me about what the most terrible part of cancer was for my dad. When my dad had cancer, some of his friends disappeared. They just stopped calling, stopped dropping by, stopped being there. They just went away. I can understand that. It is hard to know what to say to a sick person. You feel like you should cheer them up but what can you say to a person with a potentially fatal disease? "Hey, Buddy, I sure hope this doesn't KILL you!" Sometimes, it can become one of those things where all you can think of is the things that would be tactless or tacky or thoughtless or stupid to say and while you are thinking to yourself to not say them, you can't think of anything else to say. I had a friend with brain cancer. It was ultimately fatal and we all knew there was a good likelihood it would be. But I offered to help and the call came to drive him to a radiation treatment so I did. I worried. But it was not an issue. We talked about the weather and politics and our kids and politics, just like we always did. We had fun. We did hug when I dropped him off, which was out of character for us and the one nod to this being a serious damn big deal. But it was the last time I talked to him, so it's a good thing. I don't have any answers. I don't have the magic right thing to say. I can't even promise you that you won't embarrass yourself by blurting out some awful or silly thing. But I do know this. In the end, it does not matter what you say at all. It just matters that you say something. "Good thing it's finally spring" is trivial and inane. "I am sorry you are going to die," is dramatic and needlessly stating the depressing obvious. But either of those 'bad' things to say is far far better than saying nothing. Please call that friend and say something. Stay there for them. Don't disappear. If it all turns out okay in the end, you will be glad you are still friends and if it goes bad, you will be so very glad you had that one last moment with them. Even if you got it wrong at the time, it was better than not getting it at all.