“I don’t want to say the wrong thing,” people confess when I run into them in town. Or, “Don’t focus on… that [dying]…stay positive and you’ll get through!” I get it. The longer I travel along this path of Stage IV breast cancer, the more discomfort I witness during end-of-life conversations. Interestingly, my support group friends with advanced terminal cancer like mine aren’t usually interested in talking about death either.
Here’s one way to get started. Instead of focusing on what to say, ask. Create a question: “How are you doing?” And you simply let the person answer. You could then say, “Would you like to share more about that?” And from there, you can be ready to talk about your life. I love hearing what my friends and their families and pets are up to, or chatting about hilarious pumpkin spice Internet memes, or that they’re having a terrible day and need to vent. Just because I have cancer doesn’t mean I want to stop hearing about your life. My social life has shifted with the driving restriction, so I’m already seeing less of you. When we catch up, I really want to know How You’re Doing: the good, the bad, the ugly. All of it. If you hold back from venting about your kids, or a health scare that you’re navigating, or grief over a loved one who is nearing the end of life, you are excluding me from your life in the name of not burdening me. It’s like I’m already gone.
My husband occasionally tells me (fine, it’s often; he tells me often) that there are many ways to “speak.” I did read the book The Five Love Languages, but all I want to do is talk about it. Anyway, it turns out that “talking” doesn’t have to be limited to words. Gestures such as weeding a garden, dropping off an heirloom tomato sandwich, seeing a movie, sending a card, sharing photos of your summer travels, simply sitting and drinking tea together – those are examples of caring gestures that convey sentiments that may be difficult to put into words.
I need to speak openly about my end-of-life journey, and it helps me to stay in relationship with you when you are open to hearing it, and willing to share about your life. Head On and Heart Strong!