Friday, February 12, 2010
Note To Self
I received this message today (w/names omitted and edited for brevity):
I know you probably get plenty of emails from bewildered individuals like me, but can I just say I really need some advice, just like all the other bewildered. I have even re-read your book, seeing if it answers
this big question, and maybe you did, but since the answer wasn't lit up in neon with the preface "HEY YOU: HERE IS YOUR ANSWER," I missed it.
And maybe the answer is in there, but it is hard to really "get it" because it is a life experience, and like all the books on childbirth, which even told me all about childbirth, it just didn't tell me about MY childbirth. Somehow uniquely surprising. So apologies if you did actually answer my question, but could you re-phrase the answer?
The background: My neighbor has Stage IV breast cancer. AND she has three children. (You are probably getting an inkling where this is going?) And, well, she is ~my neighbor~ and this is, you know, the Pacific Northwest. We have, for a decade, pretty much minded our own business (even though our kids play every once in a while), there is no deep and meaningful relationship-- just our nice, you-on-one-side of the
street and me-on-the other-side, sometimes a pleasant nod and a wave.
So. A neutron bomb has gone off and it is time to change our lovely distant relationship because well, it seems pretty non-optional in light of all the care that is going to be needed. And I have even tested that
idea out on several different clergy and no one has disagreed with that statement about non-optional relationship change (freaking Christians).
Plus, I pretty much know this is what I am called to be doing. How? Because anytime that I have been called up by God it has involved something that scares the beejeezus out of me, I try to come up with some good reasons to avoid it, it has involved caring about someone other than myself (some of those times people have fit into that neat, other-side of the street definition) and has involved giving up my brilliant plans for the near future.
The question: How do people live through something so incredibly scary and sad? It has been easy to go into organization hyper-mode because order is so lovely, and so impersonal. But it is the personal stuff that
is next on the agenda, I am imagining. The personal stuff of seeing my neighbor get really sick, and frail, and maybe even unable to care for her kids. And maybe even talking about scary things like dying and what will happen to her children.
How in the world do people do this? How in the world does someone go through something like this with another person? How in the world can I do this?
Thanks for any advice, your experience and your wisdom. I will really appreciate it because so far one of my coping strategies has involved closing the blinds to avoid looking across the street. And we all know reducing any form of light during a Northwest winter is a terrible idea.
Here's my answer to your question: How in the world can I do this?
I want to warn you that my answer is such a cliche, such well-worn advice that you have heard a thousand time that it may make you want to spit.
Here it is: One day at a time.
Seriously. That is how people go through life, because really, you can't actually go through any other way, now can you? You are trying to be in a future that you don't even know will happen. How do you know you will see your neighbor "get really sick, and frail, and maybe even unable to care for her kids. And maybe even talking about scary things like dying and what will happen to her children."
How do you know that's going to happen? How do you know she will talk to you about dying? How do you know it's going to be scary and sad for her? Or did you mean for you?
So how in the world can you be with your neighbor? One day at a time.
When you were pregnant did you spend all your time thinking about delivery? It never hurts to be informed, but how could you spend every day worrying about the delivery? You would entirely miss the life that was happening right in front of you. Childbirth! Talk about scary!
Here's an idea. Give her a copy of my book. Then you will have something to talk about that isn't directly about her, but the conversation may get to be about her.
And you know what? Don't assume that she will want you to get all neighborly all of a sudden. I just now started thinking about neighbors on my street that I don't know well and how I would feel if they were suddenly coming over all the time. I would freak out!
You may want to be closer, but don't assume that she does. And you can't take it personally if she doesn't.
I think perhaps today is simply Bewildered Day, because I, myself have been in a State of Bewilderment for most of the day. So you are not alone. In fact, the first thing I did this morning was write to two close friends asking for advice. My subject line: Help Me! So there you go.
I hope this helps. Don't hesitate to call or give my number to your neighbor in case she wants a (im)perfect stranger to come in and listen to her talk about her experience.
It's great that you care, Stumped. If I thought worrying helped ANYthing, I'd say, "Angst away, my friend!" But it doesn't, so don't.
Be here now. One day at a time.
Thanks for writing and reminding me.