Days of Our Lives: When the Bad News Arrives
There was no warning. My dad was watching the “Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” one moment and dead the next. Luckily I was home from college that weekend, so I could help my mother through it, but can you really help someone through that, or prepare them for that moment…..
When the bad news arrives?
I was twenty at the time.
I don’t know how many loved ones and friends I’ve lost since. I really don’t. Probably over one-hundred easily because it’s been what, forty-six years since that January night?
And not only those I’ve lost, but the countless times I’ve been with a loved one or friend when they received life-altering news, news like I lost my job, or a brain tumor, or degenerative heart disease, or I lost my house, or my child committed suicide, or…..
And Here’s the Thing
When those moments happen….when I’m faced with tragedy myself, or the tragedy of another….I don’t have the words.
I’m a writer and I don’t have one damn word.
Lord knows I’ve tried. I’ve said words but not “the words,” not the words that would somehow ease the pain….not the words that would somehow make everything all right.
I’ve said words like “I’m so sorry” and “I’ll send prayers and hugs your way.” I’ve said words like “I can’t imagine what you are feeling” and words like “Only God knows His plan,” and they all sounded then, and sound now, trite and ineffectual.
We have what, over a quarter-million words in the English language, and not one of them can communicate the sorrow, or support, that those times demand.
Not one of them!
Practice Does Not Make Perfect in This Case
I found out my sister died on Facebook. I didn’t know what to say.
I found out my son’s best friend committed suicide. I didn’t know what to say.
A good friend, in one year, lost his job, his home and his wife. I had no clue what to say.
A great friend of mine, at age forty-six, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s seven years ago and not once in those seven years have I had an inkling what to say.
And just this morning a dear friend told me she has lung cancer.
You guessed it…..I don’t know what to say.
Oh, I’ve Written About It
It’s easy to write about it in the abstract. Most of us have done it, right? I’ve written articles about how precious life is, and how we must learn acceptance, and how much easier life is if we just come to realize we are not in control, and to live each day as if it’s your last, and go for the friggin’ gusto because you never know, you just never know, you just don’t have a chance of knowing when today will be the last day…..
And it’s all true, and it’s all trite, when the abstract becomes reality.
I spend six months, on average, writing a novel. In that novel are, again on average, about ten paragraphs that actually knock my socks off. I’m talking about paragraphs that are nearly-perfect. They are constructed beautifully with just the perfect combination of verbs, nouns, adverbs and adjectives. They are paragraphs that feed my soul and tell me I actually do have some talent.
But where is that talent when a friend, or loved one, needs my words to comfort them?
Nowhere to be found!
So, Is It Hopeless?
Here’s what I’ve learned. It took me literally decades to discover this truth and I give it to you now for free.
It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference what I say in those situations.
It only matters that I care and I show that I care.
When my dad died, my friends tried. God how they tried, but they were as ineffectual with words as I would have been, and not one of their words has stayed with me over the decades. I don’t remember what one person said….but….I remember clearly them encircling me and giving me strength. And that’s exactly what I needed. I needed their touches. I needed their hugs. I needed their stupid attempts at humor and their sharing of memories.
I needed a human connection.
Without one word being voiced I communicated my needs and they communicated their support and love. And that made all the difference in the world at my time of mourning, and it has continued to do so over the years in similar situations.
We are human beings.
We need each other!
To Prove a Point
The friend I just mentioned, the one who just found out she has lung cancer?
I’ve never met her.
She lives 3,000 miles away and I know her through the internet only. She wrote me this morning and said she had told her family and now she was telling me because….get this….she considers me family.
I’ve never met her, and yet she considers me family.
We are human beings.
We need each other!
I am honored that she shared her news with me. I am humbled, and I am grateful….grateful because she reached out, to me, when she needed a human connection and she allowed me to be that connection and to share my compassion and empathy.
Which is something we humans do quite well.
I Have Tears in My Eyes As I Write This
No, not for my friend. She wouldn’t want that and I respect that. I do not have tears in my eyes for my dear friend with Alzheimer's, even though it hurts something awful to watch him wither away and be powerless to stop it. No, I have tears in my eyes right now because of that human connection. At a time when horrors attack us each night on the evening news…at a time when it truly feels like the whole damned world has gone crazy….there are still ordinary people doing things that are extraordinary. There are still loving people loving…caring people caring….humans still being human.
It’s what we do best….being human.
I’m a writer and I don’t have the words.
I’m a human and I’ve got exactly what is needed.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)