Tuesday, August 08, 2006

honesty

In the line of work at my paying job, I sometimes have the opportunity to talk about such topics as death and dying with my clients. It can be pretty intense.

One recent conversation has stayed on my mind.

Often, my clients facing the diagnosis of what we sometimes jokingly refer to as "the C word", face a gamut of feelings and options. Part of what gets mixed up into all of this is still the stigma and the fear.

And in this conversation, my client expressed just that. For himself, he was hopeful and determined. He was well-informed and was doing more research on the options for treatment that are available. OK, so far so good. But when I asked him about his young children, he went off into a long discussion on how others react when they hear you have cancer, even if the chances are good that you are not dying.

This reminds me of one of Morrie Schwartz's aphorisms.

"Talk openly about your illness with those who'll listen. It will help them cope with their own vulnerabilities as well as your own."

I think what my client was expressing was that somehow he would have to assume responsibility for how others react to his life crisis. And that is where I would like to disagree with him. Often, those who don't want to know, don't want to face it, will avoid you and the question. But when your own children ask what is going on, you should tell them, simply and honestly and with courage: courage and confidence that they are wise, strong people who know that life is also filled with death, and courage and confidence that even if you are gone, you have provided them with the tools and the family to support them and help them as they work it through.

That may sound like I'm thinking pie-in-the-sky families. No. Ordinary families. The biggest drawback is the silence, the lack of honesty and the fear of telling the truth. For god's sake, that withholding of the truth is what makes tv soap-operas go round. There wouldn't even be a story if there were honesty in soap-operas.

We seem to be afraid of making mistakes. We are afraid of emotions. We are afraid to be vulnerable and to open up. Being honest doesn't change the people around us into super people who will suddenly be kind and supportive and perfectly wise. It might even bring out their worst fears and emotions! It could get pretty messy. But what a relief it might be to finally lance some of those festering abscesses that needed so badly to see the light of day!

My friend Connie recently lost her dog, Squirt. By the time I became acquainted with Squirt, she was already an old, old girl, having trouble with arthritis. Squirt would still hopefully bring you her chipped and slobbery ball so that you could throw it for her, even though it utterly exhausted her to run and fetch. Even in an old dog, hope never dies! And now, Squirt has passed on.

Now my friend Connie is a very kind and considerate person who sometimes could not comprehend her mother-in-law. I don't know Connie's mother-in-law at all, never met her. I imagine she's a rather matter-of-fact country woman and some of the niceties that Connie's tender heart expects just don't occur to this woman, not because she's unkind, but because perhaps she assumes that we can take for granted that the love is there. It can go unsaid.

So, imagine Connie's surprise when she received a scrapbook-like story of Squirt's life, created by her mother-in-law to commerate a great dog. It kind of complicates things for my darling friend Connie, because it would have been easier to simply hate her mother-in-law. But now she's gone and done something like this!

It makes me smile... and brings tears to my eyes.

2 Comments:

Blogger Jenn said...

*sniff*

Yeah.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Blackswamp_Girl said...

:)

10:34 PM  

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