I didn’t realize I have been riding on a dark cloud to strangers, acquaintances or even friends when I respond my usual remark of “but why shouldn’t I be positive? Why shouldn’t I be happy and be grateful and be alive while dealing with cancer?”
I didn’t realize that to some people my remark can seem alienating in the same way that a remark of “it must be difficult for you”or “you must have it hard” can feel alienating to me.
So let me get this straight. Thank you. Thank you for seeing me strong and capable even when facing this situation. Thank you for feeling for me and thinking along that I am undergoing some tough times. Thank you for sharing how my positivism is relatively new or fresh or unusual. Thank you. I am really grateful that you took the time to comment, to send a message, to get connected, to keep in touch. Thank you for those words that were said because that is what is within your realm and how you view my situation to be. Thank you for caring enough to think of me.
I am tempted to say my “but”, but the discussion with my husband last night made me understand how other words might escape you. Our conversation made me aware that sometimes even with the best of intentions come judgments born out of one’s own experiences, one’s own fear, one’s own notions of suffering.
So I would like to offer my help. The next time you come across someone like me who is undergoing a change, a journey or a challenge may these words find their meaning in their situation and may it give a better way to communicate your sincerest intentions.
I know you mean well but perhaps you might want to try these lines instead:
1) Instead of “how are you?” try to start with the line “I was thinking of you” or “you were in my thoughts” in your message. You don’t know how many times we are asked that question in a given day! It can be tiring to do a “body and mental scan” just to give the right answers to how we feel or how we are doing that the temptation to answer “I am doing fine” is so high. At times I blurt it because I do feel fine but couldn’t find the words after that to get the conversation going.
And what if in fact I am not fine? Are you willing to stick around while I lament on all the procedures that I am undergoing? The number of needles that has poked my body? How I have so many questions on my treatment but my doctor is on vacation? My question is would you really want to know and stick around to hear the not so good bits of what I am going through? Because if you don’t have the time nor the intention to, then please don’t ask me how I am doing. Best to start with “I was thinking of you” and let your conversation flow from there.
2) I admit I react heavily to the words “be strong” “it must be difficult” or “hang in there”. Like what I said I know these are all coming from a point of good intentions. But these are also from your point of reference and someone in my position doesn’t necessarily have to be reminded of our difficulties, how we need to face the situation or how we have to fight for it. Believe me fighting for our lives is our only mode right now. Hanging there is not even an option it is a way of life and being strong is a far better choice than feeling self-pity. We are in this mindset and reality day in and day out. If you want to connect instead of adding these lines perhaps you can say “I can only imagine what you are going through, are you experiencing pain or discomfort?” Or if you want a spin to the “Be strong” line how about trying this instead “ I know you are learning to cope with this situation so I am sending you positive thoughts along your way to give you additional strength.”
3) “What can I do for you?” is another question that I get confronted with a lot. If you are a close friend, you know I will give an answer of what I need or what my family need. I can be direct that way because I need you. I need help and I am not afraid to admit it.
But if we are in the relationship that we don’t see each other that often or our communication consists of only birthday greetings or fancy gatherings then I would suggest this line instead “ I know you are offered a lot of help in this situation. If you ever find yourself just wanting to talk or have some company you can message me.”
Why the offer of company? Because certain needs can easily be asked to family or close friends and at times are already taken cared of by them. But spending time and just hanging together is a good option when we are stuck home and not so much in the mood or energy to go out.
In situations where you want to offer concrete help like picking up my kids from school or cooking a meal or buying me fruits in the market. Of course those are welcome. So instead of asking what you can do for me, just throw your suggestions. I am open to ideas. But do these things only if it doesn’t bother you at all. When my mind is frail the guilt of being a burden plays on my head like a broken record. I don’t want to add your name in the list because I feel I am imposing.
Again these lines are from me, about me, my feelings and my needs.
What I offer are alternatives and if you decide to use them in connecting with someone else bear in mind that the other person might have different set of wants and needs herself/himself. If these words find meaning in another person then I am glad I wrote them.
Read also my previous article: “Letter To the Young Mum in the Mammacare Waiting Area”
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