I really will get back to LC Awareness month, but for now, my coldy-head is thinking of this.
On the Lung Cancer board quite a while back–probably seven or eight months or so even–someone posted a poem called, “The Gifts of Cancer.” Well… that went over like a turd in a punch bowl, let me tell you. Telling a bunch of cancer survivors to think of their disease as a ‘gift….’ Whoooeee! One of our spunkiest members, Fay A, who died not long after, was the first to respond and made it clear that it was a rotten gift and one that she wished she could exchange pronto, despite the ‘gifts’ that truly had come out of her journey. The distinction was quickly made between good things mercifully coming out of rotten things, and rotten things being good things to begin with. Cancer is NOT a gift. Of course, the original poster (who had nothing but kind intentions) felt just terrible and there were some hurt feelings, but overall some positive discussion was had that I think caused many people to step back and think about how sensitive (or…. not) such a message really might be.
A couple of days ago, on the same board, an equally well-meaning member posted a poem called ‘the gift of grief.’ I gotta tell you, I responded in much the same way to that thread. Um… a gift? Can I take it back?
Both ‘gift’ write-ups went along the line of how beautiful life becomes when we’ve walked through something so difficult. How we become people of more depth, and compassion, and blah blah blah.
And often those things are true…. BUT… I’d have stayed a shallow, mean person if it meant my Mom could still be around without cancer. (And really–was I that shallow and mean before?)
The thing is… I can look back to not too long ago and remember myself saying, or thinking, or writing similar things to try to encourage people in tough times. I was a ‘life sucks’ spin doctor. Surely life couldn’t *really* suck. Surely there are hidden gifts in this misfortune. Surely it’s not that bad. Surely you/I/we/he/she need(s) to count blessings instead of burdens. I could be the very worst kind of Pollyanna.
Now I gotta tell you, I still try to look at the bright side. I still look hard for the gifts life brings even in the midst of the manure piles that get slung on top of us from time to time (some get more than their fair share of such piles). I really, really do… But after going through Mom’s illness and death, on top of the smaller griefs that we’ve weathered since being married, I have mentally rewritten these messages.
I realized, I guess, that it’s not my job to make people ‘feel better’ when the manure pile has landed on them. I noticed quickly that often when people were trying to make me ‘feel better’ by issuing such sentiments that they were really only trying to make themselves ‘feel better’ by imparting some sort of wisdom that didn’t have experience or empathy really backing it up.
And I caught my breath when I saw my reflection in that unflattering mirror after sitting waste deep in manure myself.
So instead of hearing me wrap truly terrible things like cancer and death up in pretty little packages and calling them ‘gifts’ these days, you’re more likely to hear me commiserate and say–“You’re right. That sucks.” Then… if I care enough to stick around with a person for the long-haul, I hope to be walking alongside them when they find the hidden ‘prizes’ in the ‘manure’ themselves. And of course, I hope to be a friend when there’s nothing but smelly-fertilizer as far as the eye can see. That seems to me the most compassionate route to take–the route of a real friend. Of course that’s not to say that I don’t screw up and say ALL THE WRONG THINGS quite frequently. I do. And far more often that I’d like to admit, I don’t say anything at all. I haven’t experienced all of life’s manure piles, and thus verbal landmines still abound. But, I do try to think before I speak these days when I know that someone is really hurting.
I still have hope. I still look for the good. I still depend on the promise all things are worked for good in some way (which is vastly different from ‘all things being good’ in the first place). But… you won’t see me writing any Hallmark cards about these gifts that really need a better return policy.
I think a card that says something like, “Hand me a shovel and some coveralls, and scoot over. I’ll wade into the compost of life with you,” is really more my style. (Could go along nicely with my grief sucks line of cards, don’t you think?)