Then there’s the others

It’s easy to become preoccupied with my own thoughts.  The kids try their best to understand what I’m going through, and I try to understand what they are going through.  We all agree each of us has our own challenges and sorrows.  There are times though when I get so angry at how insensitive people can be, and frustrated too, because I am powerless to change it.

Today was a classic example.  My sons live a distance from me, consequently I don’t see them too frequently.  My daughter I see almost every day.  As a result I feel pretty in tune with her state of mind; not so much with my sons.  I know that as Christmas approaches they are all reflecting on the enormity of the loss, their loss, and my heart breaks for them.

Today, one of my sons sent me a message that almost made me cry. He has a co-worker going through a similar situation, a bit more prolonged of an illness than Kevin’s (my husband and his father) was, but with the same eventuality – death is looming near.  Consider how hard that atmosphere would be to someone already grieving.  It’s a very small office, five or six employees, and my son has to go to work every day and every day all the talk is about is death and dying.  I imagine that it’s like someone constantly picking the scab off a cut that is trying to heal.

He can’t escape from the dark clouds that hover in his workplace, and like most people who haven’t lost anyone near and dear, these coworkers seem to have a morbid fascination about talking about it.  Can you just feel the knife twisting over and over – my son just can’t avoid it.  And he’s surrounded by people who think they “know” what it’s like. That’s been his norm since his dad died; closing in on nine months.  Then today, the co-worker brought in some treats, treats for everyone but my son.  No biggie, if it is handled properly, but it wasn’t.  It became a joke around the office – I have to shake my head in disbelief.  Whatever happened to empathy?  Would it be funny if it was one of them left out?

So, what did I tell my son after he shared this story?  I told him to handle his “funny” coworkers like his father would have.  And how would that be?  Fairly directly as well as explicitly. It would go very much like this, “F*ck you, assholes,” and it would have been delivered with passion and emphasis and straight in the eye. The thing about Kevin was, he didn’t fear words, they are only ordered letters after all – it was the delivery that mattered.

Long ago, when the kids were small Kevin had told me that some things you can trust a school to teach, but other things needed to be taught at home. There was no way his kids were ever going to learn to swear at school, he’d teach them himself at home.  Funny thing though, he’d tell the kids it was okay to swear but just never around me.  I actually bought into it too, and was shocked to find out that they were all quite colourful in their language.

After hearing my son’s story today, I’m glad that his father gave him the ability to express himself. I am also glad that I gave him the filters to know what is appropriate and what isn’t, because I know that he is just too polite a young man to ever “handle” the situation like his father would have.  My son did see the humour in my advice as well as recognize the honesty.

Kevin was one of a kind, and together we raised very good kids.





The Dilemma – Sharing the News

Today we had a very familiar conversation with my sister-in-law.  It took me back to when my husband first found out he had cancer.  It was all about managing information flow.

Both my husband and his sister are very social individuals.  Perhaps it comes from being raised by immigrants; their parents brought them over from England when they were quite young.  Their cousins, uncles and aunts still remain overseas.  As newcomers to Canada they had to go out and make relationships.   To this day they both are very active within the local community.

When my husband got his diagnosis for cancer he was shattered.  He went from fine to Stage 4 in one day.  It was dark days and obviously still is troubled times.  For him to have to tell his story over and over was like torture.  He told a few, very few, family members and friends and it was all that he could bear.  It became a challenge for me to manage, since people didn’t want to get the news from me, they want to speak to him directly.  Imagine having to repeat over and over again the same awful news – and not when you are up to it, but rather on command, when someone decides to phone you.

My sister-in-law came by today and we talked about this.  She has quite a few phone calls on her answering machine and just doesn’t want to do the call back.  Can you blame her?  I know people are well meaning, but sometimes they can be unintentionally cruel.  To leave a message that says “Oh my God, I just heard the news!  Call me!”  does not make for an easy call back.  She already knows what it will be about and likely dreads hashing through the details to satisfy someone’s curiosity.  You see – it’s real for her, it’s not for the other person – it’s just a conversation and then they go back to their life.

Some people try to find common ground and they go through their own health aliments.  Really?  You think this helps – it’s cancer we’re talking about here folks – and it is not about you at this point.  Others will tell stories about people they knew who had cancer – sometimes there is no relevance whatsoever, does it help to know a  complete stranger got well?  And I should care because…?  Who’s to say it’s even true?

I think our favorite phone calls, and we still get these, are “Just thinking about you guys and thought I’d call.  If you need anything let me know.”  No pressure, no response required – but these are the ones that we usually call back – because we can determine what we talk about – we can even ignore the disease completely.

It’s all about empathy, compassion and consideration.