What Can I Say?
Last night, the topic at my Tuesday Night Men’s Meeting was transitions. I’m usually a stickler for staying on topic but I was taught that sometimes, you just have to talk about what’s hurting. My Thursday meeting even has what we call a Hurting Section before a topic is chosen. At any rate, I shared that my brother is in critical condition in a hospital in Mentor, Ohio … and a few details about what’s going on. After the meeting, someone talked to me about a similar situation and how it helped him to remember that no situation is inherently good or bad, it just is what it is. I want to be gentle here because I know that this man’s intentions were good. It is a standard 12-Step approach to problems not to personalize what’s going on and to realize that good can spring from apparently bad events, but did he really think I’d consider my brother’s illness neutral? I once walked into my Thursday meeting after taking my wife, Muri, to the hospital with a pulmonary embolism and, naturally I shared about my fears in the Hurting Section. Afterwards, someone asked me, Where’s your spiritual awareness? My inclination was to show him by knocking him on his ass, but I showed him by walking away. Someone else told me to place it in God’s hands, which is what I think my first friend meant. I heard about God’s plan and how everything happens for a reason. I appreciated everyone efforts to console me but what helped the most were people who simply gave me a hug, told me they were sorry my wife was sick and asked if there was anything they could do. Once, when we had just discovered that Muri had breast cancer, someone at a meeting told me about his wife’s battle with cancer. I know he was just showing that he empathized but all I heard was that his wife had eventually succumbed to the disease.
I am a spiritual person. I believe for my own sanity that somehow what happens in this world makes sense at some cosmic level and that there is a God in charge. I don’t have to understand everything that happens in God’s world. But I am also a passionate person who believes that buried emotions are destructive. I’d like to move that before anyone tells someone that’s hurting their own horror story, they realize that as humans we are perfectly capable of imagining awful endings on our own. Just say, I’ve been through similar situations. I know just how you’re feeling. Leave it at that. And leave the platitudes in your pocket. Spiritual homilies appropriate when my work is going badly only piss me off when a loved one is gravelly ill. They come across as ill-timed commercials for what you believe. Just let me know you care and that you’re there if I need you.
My wife Muri sends Hallmark cards to family and friends that are hurting. Sometimes she sends so many that they tell her to stop. So, when I Googled, What Can I Say?, I wasn’t surprised at all when I landed at the Hallmark website and an article about consoling others: I’m here for you – The right words (and actions) for tough times. It has examples about what to say … and what not to say … in various situations. Sometimes you can find real wisdom in unexpected places. Sometimes, I wish more people would look for it before they decide, What Can I Say?