This past weekend I happened into a bookstore close to my home. As I waited for family, I decided to wander over to the grief section to see how I Can’t Stop Crying was doing.
When I got to the section there was a woman sitting on the floor looking through books. It so happened that she was siting directly in front of what I was searching for.
We began a brief conversation and it so happened that she was searching for a tool to help her facilitate communication with her family around her illness.
“ I am dying,” she told me “I want to be able to share and talk with my family and hopefully have them share and talk with me.”
Grief is not something that can easily be planned for. We imagine that if we see death coming that we will have time to prepare and therefore “do and say all the things we need to”.
Unfortunately, the impact that death can have, whether it comes instantly and unexpectedly or announces itself from a long way off, is still very difficult for those who face grief.
We call it anticipatory grief when we know what’s likely coming and here we begin to hurt in advance.
Strange as it sounds though, our advanced warning doesn’t always help us do or say what we may need to.
The pain of death on the horizon and all of the many feelings that that knowledge can bring with it may very well cause us to act as though all is well.
There are some realities that can simply be too painful to deal with, let alone to speak of aloud.
I can remember a number of times in my life when I, or someone I was close to, was faced with a critical life moment.
I remember the fumbling and difficulty that existed and I can also remember that I had to be trained or train myself to not let important moments pass without being acknowledged or dealt with.
When someone that you care for is ill and possibly facing death, there is an “elephant in the room”. We look around the great beast, try to squeeze past it as though it’s not there and really do all we can to act as though all is well and nothing is out of order.
Everyone who comes “ into that room” sees the elephant and yet most, if not all, who come by want very much to act as if all is fine.
The elephant, in this case, is the illness and life of the woman in the bookstore and all that means to her loved ones.
Talking can be so very difficult when the topic pulls at our hearts and makes our jaws and our very existence shake.
If you are facing the end of life, if you see death coming, there is a chance that you may be doing much better with the news than any around you.
Speaking with them about your future will cause great pain and mean that they may have to deal with emotions so raw that even acknowledging them will be horribly painful.
They may also feel compelled to be positive, believing that a positive posture will do more good than crying or gut wrenching emotion.
Each situation is certainly unique, depending on your family dynamics, but may I suggest risk and honesty.
Call out the elephant, acknowledge how difficult this time and this conversation is for you and for them, but push forward gently and with sensitivity, knowing that the emotions of those you speak with may be raw and that this is too much for many.
Even if after you plead for communication and after you ask that certain topics be attempted, you may still find that this request is too much for those that love you.
The depth of their feelings may never allow what you seek.
I am reminded of something that a very wise person taught me years ago.
She said, “it may only mater what you do. Your words and actions, your effort all on it’s own, may be all that’s needed to make an enormous difference.”