Category: Death and Dying

Questions No One Should Answer

Telling Knots has a great post on the thoughtless questions people ask of breast cancer patients and how people try to find reasons for illness and/or death.

Somehow we think that if we can assign blame and identify what the patient did to get cancer, we will know what dumb things not to do and therefore we will be safe from a breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent recurrence. This also extrapolates to any other randomness of biology and whatever accidents one can imagine. 

Her blog is very apropos for October's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, because over 40,000 breast cancer patients still do die every year. No way is it their fault. 

And most breast cancer survivors do hear many of the things Telling Knots has heard. You will be very interested to read her post. She nails it. 

What I liked best was her conclusion that the tactless questions others direct at us actually say more about them than they do about us. And instead of answering, perhaps we should say, "Why do you ask?"

This makes me think of the afternoon that my Uncle Bill called, soon after my second mastectomy. After some small talk he got right down to the nitty-gritty and asked: 

"So they cut off both your tits? What will Les do now?"

I did not write a poem about the incident. If I had, should it have said

Good grief
Beyond belief
Should I debrief?

What are some better ways to relate to your friend who has been diagnosed with breast cancer?

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Sudden Mist of Tears

Today is my dear Mary Jo's birthday. She was eleven days younger than I. Four years ago I turned 78, but she died two days before she turned 78. 

I saved this story for her birthday.

Last week I walked up to buy some cosmetics at the Clinique counter in Macy's. A woman stood at the counter – she had short, dark auburn-dyed hair and the same rust-tone blush and lipstick as Mary Jo wore. She had gold rimmed glasses. She had the very same wrinkles in the very same places as Mary Jo. She turned to ask me a question. 

My eyes filled and my throat ached. If only Mary Jo could ask me a question.

It would be more likely that she would answer one of mine. She was my go-to girl: Which wallpaper goes best with my flooring? Should I get the green chair or the brown one? I need a good recipe for lasagna. Would you help me solve this issue with the kids?  

She married Les' brother when I was twenty and became my best friend. We raised our children together. We celebrated anniversaries together. We went to Norway together. When I became ill with CFS in 1989, she was the one who tried to understand my loss of energy and stamina. She was the one who made accommodations for me. She always had my back.

So, happy birthday, Mary Jo. I will love you and miss you always.

 

Just Stay Positive?

"You will be just fine" has long been a problem for me. No matter what horrendous circumstance one is facing, what one needs is support and validation, not cheer-leading. Discounting a person's feelings and implying that everything can be solved by being positive does a great disservice to the ill or injured or depressed or bereaved.

But at one time or another, I suspect we have all said it. I know I have. Do we say it to reassure others? To reassure ourselves? To deny what's going on?

And beyond that, there is "Just stay positive." Another soul shrinker that:

  • implies you caused your own cancer with your negativity
  • burdens you with being in charge of getting well
  • causes infinite pain if cancer eats at you until you die

I have a poem to share with you:

You Will Be Just Fine

Please do not trivialize
my suffering.

You who are healthy
You whose mortaility is as yet
Only dimly preceived–
Please do not say
"You will be just fine."

I may well be–someday–
But I do not know…
You do not know…

(Excerpted from Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear and Loneliness, (c) 1993, 2003 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad. All rights reserved.)

And tell me why you think we keep saying, "You will be just fine."

 

Why Am I Alive? Why Is She Dead? No. 4

The White Horse
(for Ann)

Death comes on a white horse
to carry you away

I see the love in Her eyes as
she lifts you carefully
and cradles you in Her arms

You go willingly, eagerly,
even though you know

you can't come home again

(Excerpted from Fine Black Lines (c) 1993, 2003 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)

I miss you, Ann.

Why Am I Alive? Why Is She Dead? No. 3

Shoreline
(for Ann)

Everything seems
so distant
now

Is Life receding or
is Eternity
approaching?

(Excerpted from Fine Black Lines, (c) 1993, 2003 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)