(Here’s a silent witness who’ll be there for you but never offer his ‘wisdom.’ It’s probably why he’s called “Man’s Best Friend.” Photo by CKMellor, Beaver Lake, Spring 2011)
Years ago, I had a girlfriend who looked at me and said: “You haven’t even begun to grieve…You don’t know how much worse it’s going to get” (as I looked ahead into the bleak tunnel of my life).
Her husband had just died (he was struck down by rare disease and passed quickly), while my husband had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. We were 8 months out from the moment we’d heard the devastating news, and each day we faced fresh horrors.
She was basically telling me we hadn’t suffered enough yet, which was (pardon the pun) a “dead-wrong assumption” on her part. For, as anyone knows who’s heard a diagnosis of “terminal,” he or she begins grieving immediately. Some argue that fate is crueler in that the person and family know the inevitable is coming (though they hope desperately it won’t).
From the moment of diagnosis, we in the family had stumbled about in shock, digesting the magnitude of of what we’d heard: that my husband was dying; his cancer was stage #4; and it had metastacized.
I’d been told privately, by doctors, that he might have 6-9 months, while he’d been told that, most likely, he “wouldn’t have multiple years.” He was advised to get his affairs in order.
I remember being offended by my friend’s remark, for it negated the suffering we’d already experienced and it foretold worse pain to come. I wondered why anyone would say such a thing, except to somehow win in the “Pain Wars” (“Mine’s greater than yours.”)
I’d discover over the years, she was hardly alone in doing this.
There was the divorced friend who offered to me (when she heard I was a widow at 42): “Oh, I think divorce is much more painful than death of a spouse because with divorce, you have to live with the realization that he moved on and left you for another” (she obviously didn’t know I’d divorced my first husband, then buried the second.)
I classified her as “insensitive dolt,” one of those who make idiotic statements to another. She was obviously basing her assumption on her own history.
But people frequently offer such commentary. What it amounts to is their own internal conversation going outward, as in: “OK, my friend is going through this, but my situation is worse because of blah…blah…blah.” The problem is: they don’t think….first.
Then there’s the person who assigns another’s pain to the “bearable” category, because “God never gives anyone more than he can handle.” This one, I admit, has caused me great consternation, in life, in that I always think and want to say (upon hearing it): “Really… Then how do you explain all those folks who end up in rubber rooms?” Then, again, “What happened to those who sought release from pain through drugs or suicide?”
Furthermore, am I to believe that God is really somewhere doling out pain to humans, but only in prescribed doses that He knows are tolerable, depending on the individual? If that’s the case, I’d think Him manipulative and sadistic, and I don’t believe that’s the case.
At the end of the day, I don’t know another’s pain and that person doesn’t know mine. We think we know, but often, in retrospect, we discover our suppositions have been woefully inadequate. The best route—always–is to listen and merely offer support. Do I always do it? No…I wish I did…but I do know it’s the better route.
How do I know? I’ve often been on the other end of that conversation where someone is telling me when I’ll grieve, how I’ll grieve, or how ‘lucky’ I am to have just the amount of pain I can handle (when my world is shattering all around me and I’m hanging on, by my fingernails).
I know people mean well by these (mostly). But, in the end, such commentary is self-serving.
Biddy suggests: Be the better friend and resist the temptation. We never know the life experience of others. Just listen and be there for them, even if it means holding their hands, while saying nothing.
That silent support speaks volumes.