Deb: Barbara and I spent the better part of a day with a darling friend who is in considerable pain right now. She is faced with her sister’s sudden and advanced cancer. The hope the doctors are offering is minimal at best. It seems to be untreatable and inoperable. Our friend is shocked and sad. Or, I should say, profoundly shocked and sad. She is feeling her sister being ripped from her, and her sister I think is feeling the same way towards her entire world. Yesterday we set out to have an oasis day. The three of us got together to do something delightful. And it was the best thing we could have done.
I worried that the day would be a mirage rather than an oasis. I worried that she would want to enjoy the day but would not be able to, as thoughts would creep in to invade this fertile place of friendship. I mainly worried because we are not old friends, we three. We do not know her sister, nor do we have the history of their family to call upon. We cannot console her with lively memories and great stories. We cannot speak to her sister’s courage or resolve because we simply do not know her. We can’t reassure her in any specific way at all because we don’t have the background of their family.
And yet, as we walked along, into this beautiful September day, we took solace in just being there. The three of us. We were there just to be with her and she was there just to be with us. There was no mandate. We talked about it, we didn’t talk about it. We were just there. It wasn’t even about conscious support. We were just letting the day unfold into the lovely day our friend needed and that we also needed in the face of her sadness.
And it made me think about pain and suffering and even death, and the handling of these things. Often I am asked when someone is going into a hospital room or a funeral parlour, “What do I say, what should I do?” My answer always, after too much experience in this area, is simply ... to go. Show up. Be there. Arrive and be counted. That is it. That is all someone needs. You showed up. The same applies to the person who is the eye of that storm, experiencing that saddest, most painful part of life. They give themselves a huge gift when they choose life in the midst of pain, or fear of death, or death. And it isn’t easy to pull those covers off of your head and get out in the world when you are in pain. I have said before on this blog that I tend to hide out when I am sad or depressed. But our friend chose life and forward movement in the middle of her tragedy. She chose to counter the stall that she and her family is up against and come out into the sun. When you are faced with little or no hope it takes huge strength and fortitude to enable you to march out to find some sun, somewhere.
The day with our new and already beloved friend was neither maudlin nor depressing. Conversely, the situation she is facing is both, in spades. But our time together was a great example of putting one foot in front of the other. It didn’t take away her pain. We certainly didn’t NOT think about it. But it was lovely nonetheless. It was a few hours in the bosom of new friendship and life affirming activity. As we walked in the park, our conversation leapt and hopped, her sister’s situation not far from our minds. But the thing is, it did not negate what we were doing at all. It was an example of living. Living no matter what. As we strolled along, we three were beginning something in the face of that which is ending. Although we are new friends, I feel we will become fast friends.
And come what may, we will never forget this day that we all just showed up.
Barbara: Well, I couldn’t have said it better myself. You know it’s funny—I find that the older I get (maybe because I am more experienced in these things, maybe because I have learned so much myself about “letting go”) the less I worry about the support I am offering a beloved in pain. What I mean by this is: I am not analyzing my own support as I try to give it, wondering if it is helping, if I’m saying the right thing. I’m no longer, in effect, making my needs paramount, as I often—unintentionally—did in the past without realizing it. I mean, what is a worry about how well you’re supporting someone if not a worry about your own needs??? Instead, I am now just being. Being there. Being in the moment. Allowing the flow of conversation and love and support to, well, flow as it does and as it will. I am moved beyond words to look back on this precious day and see that we all—somehow—did exactly that: we flowed. As you say, Deb, the miracle, the grace, is in the living.
Deb: In case our friend reads this post, please accept this bouquet from us, as an example of our friendship and the loveliest of life.