Another 10 things list, one of the best (if I recall correctly, Deborah Orr was on the BBC panel with me and others, and was very sensible and practical describing her journey. This list reinforces that impression). The list:
- “I feel so sorry for you”
- “If anyone can beat this, it’s you”
- “You’re looking well” (I am more relaxed about this one – it is one of my ‘indicators’)
- “You’re looking terrible”
- “Let me know the results” (I find my blog the easy way to let people know and ‘manage’ the information)
- “Whatever I can do to help”
- “Oh, no, your worries are unfounded”
- “What does chemotherapy (for example) feel like?
- “I really must see you”
- “I’m so terribly upset about your condition”
Her examples and characterization of each are well worth reading and quite funny (at least for people like me who have been there). And her conclusion, captures both the essence – being there and caring – as well as her grace in accepting the various screw-ups of these ‘rules’ that is part of being human.
If you recognise things that you have said or done yourself within this list, don’t feel bad about it, at all. I most certainly have, and I’ve said and done much, much worse too; it took being on the receiving end before I realised what it could feel like. The thing is this: giant illness is a time of great intensity, and even the most cack-handed expressions of support or love are better than a smack in the face with a wet tea-towel. People feel helpless when they see that their friend is suffering. Sometimes – often – they say the wrong thing. But they are there, doing the best that they can, at a terrible, abject time. That’s the most important thing of all. I look back on those grisly moments of ineptitude and clumsiness with exasperated amusement and tender, despairing, deep, deep fondness. The great lesson I learned from having cancer, was how splendid my friends were, whatever their odd little longueurs. They all, in their different ways, let me know that they loved me, and that is the most helpful thing of all. I’m so lucky to have them.