A lot of people ask me for advice on how they can help their loved ones who have chronic, degenerative or terminal illnesses. They especially want to know what to say, how to talk about illness, and feelings, and fear, and all the awful things. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can offer what I know, what I feel, and how my friends and family have helped me.
There are a lot of ways to respond when a friend with degenerative illness shares with you the latest shitty (and scary and often humiliating) ways that their body is breaking down, or the horrible treatments they endure, or the conversations with doctors that are heavy enough to crush even the most valiant among us. People tend to say things like, “It’s going to be ok.” or “But you look great.” or “Have you tried [some shit I read about on the Internet]?” or “You can beat the odds, and maybe they’ll find a cure…” or at least something that sounds helpful or hopeful.
And it’s hard to know what the fuck to say to someone you care about when shitty things are happening to them, because you want those things to NOT be happening to them. You want to make it better, or at least easier, and you are totally freaked out about saying something wrong. (And we know you love us. We know your hearts grow heavy for us. We don’t talk about the hard stuff often because we love you and don’t want to hurt you either.) But, in that moment, we don’t want to hear that it’s going to be ok. It’s not ok. It won’t ever be ok. And we’ll figure some shit out and adapt. But, in those moments that you manage to get us to talk about it, those times when we don’t gloss over it and change the subject, don’t freak out. Just listen.
Listen to what we say.
And let it be shitty.
Let us be sad or pissed or tired or defeated. We won’t always feel that way. But if we tell you the truth, (the stuff we usually don’t share because we don’t want to bring everybody down all the goddamned time), it’s because we need someone to be with us in that particular shitty moment. Don’t try to make it better. Don’t try to clean it up. It’s messy and awful, and we’re hoping with all of our might that you’ll just be there with us in that moment. It’s a place we usually visit alone.
We stay there for a little while sometimes, and before we can climb out and try again tomorrow, we have to
Our most vulnerable selves are peeking from under the blanket, for the chance that you’ll stay, for the chance that your hearts love our hearts enough to sit in the messy and the awful for just a little while.
It takes a real friend to say, “Well that’s goddamned horrible.” and then pour a drink or make a snack and let us talk, and cry, and laugh that not-really-funny-but-I-don’t-know-how-else-to-cope laugh about how fucking seriously ludicrous it all is.
So, my advice to you and your worried heart is: Stay.
Stay with us in the awful moment. It’s a lonely place and invites to join us there might be rare, but if you get one, please accept.
If you have a guitar, and can learn a few easy chords, teach yourself to play 5000 Candles in the Wind by Mouse Rat. This will take you approximately four seconds to learn. Then, on a random school day morning, wake your children by quietly wandering into their rooms and playing it with a gradual crescendo until your children are standing on their beds with lighters** in hand, swaying and singing along with the chorus. This will start their morning off right. Offer them sugary cereal immediately after.
You will be the best mom ever.
Also, if your kids walk to school as mine do, you can wait until they are about a block and a half away, stand in the middle of the street, and belt out a 5000CITW chorus-only reprise. They will pee their pants laughing (sneak extra pants into their backpacks ahead of time), and the entire neighborhood will undoubtedly love you for it.
(This also counts as an Unsolicited Professional Neighbor Tip.)
** If you don’t provide your kids with personalized lighters, kitchen matches will work fine. If your kids have smart phones and wish to use them as the source of audience participation illumination, you are an awful fucking parent. What are they, like seven? Seven years old and you gave the little jerks a smart phone? You don’t deserve to sing about Li’l Sebastian. You probably don’t even deserve to live.
Have a great day, errbody.
I want to believe in people. Some days, some people make that a very challenging thing to do.
I guess the best thing we can do is remind ourselves that those people have to live with their bullshit, but we can walk away from it.
It’s true that they will likely carry on as they always have, as assholes, and never even realize it. It may never even cross their minds, allowing them an ignorant and blissful existence in spite of themselves.
Before we let that piss us off, we have to remember that they will never live a life as meaningful and incredible as those who choose to live a life of generosity, service, self reflection, and the kind of vulnerability that allows us to make deep connections with others.
They may never feel loss for something that they’ve never known, but they will be missing out on the best part of being alive.
Reminding myself of these things is how I process the anger I feel when a shitty person gets away with, well, being a shitty person. It helps me ditch that anger, realize that a more appropriate reaction is to pity them, and further remember that I don’t need to waste any energy on them at all. It frees me up to help clean up the damage, hold someone’s hand, and be grateful that my life is full of amazing people with the most beautiful hearts.
And then I can believe in people again.
In a time that there are plenty of serious and even important conversations happening all over the Internet, and news stories of human beings doing despicable things are being hurled at us rapid fire style, can we please just let the funny be funny and not be so goddamn serious all the time?
Dear People Who Are Wrecking the Funny on the Regular, including:
Professor Actually: Your need to correct the wrongs of anything and everything that people tweet is undoubtedly how you’ve amassed such a huge circle of friends, I’m sure of it. Your mission to educate and re-educate us all is really … something. You know a lot of stuff. Totally rad. Maybe take it down a notch? When you feel yourself thinking, “Actually … ” pump those brakes and move on. That would be super great for everyone, because we don’t care. It’s not because we don’t like you. It’s because we hate you. Please stop talking.
Captain Literal: You’re really harshing my mellow. Not everything is meant to be taken literally. I realize that there are plenty of instances where sarcasm doesn’t quite translate in writing, but you and I both know that’s not what I’m talking about. (Quick tip: If it begins with “Knock, knock” you should assume it’s meant to be humorous, and you don’t have to remind us that most people live in apartments or houses with buzzers or doorbells.) You’re killing all the joy, son. Please focus on editing Wikipedia pages when you’re bored. If you get stuck on the entry for humor, call Prof. Actually, he’ll be happy to educate your ass like a boss.
Miss JustSoYouKnow: I don’t want to know. You’re awful.
Ms. EverythingIsDEFCON1SeriousFeminist: No, I wasn’t intentionally meaner to Miss JustSoYouKnow because she’s a woman.
All Grammar Police Officers: R u fucking kidding, me. right now;
99% of the people who comment on local news stories:
“I’m totally putting people in their place. I’m so fucking awesome right now!”
The rest of the Internet:
To be fair, some of you regular-local-news-story-commentators bring a whole lot of unintentional funny shit to the game, and I dig that about you. But most of you are just hateful, awful assholes and/or religious zealots.
If commenting on daily news stories keeps all of you busy at the same time, then keep doing what you’re doing. Chances are, your terrible grammar and spelling will attract The Grammar Police, you could keep Professor Actually busy for hours, and if the story has anything to do with pissed off women (or men pissed off at women, or women who aren’t pissed off about something but should be, or Hillary Clinton), you might be a helpful distraction for the EverythingIsDEFCON1SeriousFeminists, too. Captain Literal will be tied up in a chain of argumentative comments (to which no one is responding), over a single snarky remark, for days. Miss JustSoYouKnow will have already been in there
all morning while at work during her lunch break, defending ideas that have nothing to do with the article, so we’ll just mark that one a win, too.
Well, this is unexpected.
In a time when being sarcastic, funny, politically incorrect (read: funny), snarky, and just plain not taking ourselves so seriously is met with resistance from the Debbie and Donnie Downers of the Internet, it’s the people that wage the oh-so-serious comment wars on news articles and YouTube videos that just might save the funny. So, to all you assholes fighting the good fight through post after post about something a Kardashian did or didn’t do, I salute you. Keep that shit up.
My daughter is one, and we’ve been going to our community center a couple times a week for a toddler playgroup. I’ve become good friends with some other moms there, and I like that the center is close to my house and the playroom is clean. We have coffee and talk while we watch the kids play. It’s been nice because I don’t get much time to talk to adults these days. Now I’m feeling uncomfortable because one of the moms in our group recently went back to work, so she’s not there. After she went back to work the other women in the group started talking about her. They talk about how they can’t believe she went back to work, and that her daughter will suffer because she’s in daycare. One of them said that she shouldn’t have had a baby if she wasn’t going to be around to raise it. I feel so uncomfortable talking with them, but I do think that staying at home with my child is important, and I wouldn’t have gone back to work either. That’s the problem. I think that being a stay at home mom is best, but I don’t want to talk about someone that I like to hang out with behind her back. How can I tell them that even though I pretty much agree with them I don’t want to talk about her like that? I don’t want them to start talking about me and I know that some of them would disagree with some of the things I do as a parent. I want be able to go there without feeling uncomfortable, but I’m not sure I’m ok with the whole thing.
– Conflicted Mom
Ah yes, the Mommy Wars shit-talk strikes again. Whether it’s breastfeeding or formula, daycare or stay-at-home, disposable diapers or cloth, attachment parenting and whatever you call other types of parenting, mothers with strong opinions wage war on other mothers with strong opinions, and they fight for the right to feel superior over the other. What a crock of shit. While everyone has an opinion on these parenting choices, and everyone has the right to voice their opinions regarding them, somewhere in there, a number of women have decided that their opinions are the correct opinions and have commenced a full on attack of those who disagree.
If the women in your playgroup wish to voice their opinions in front of you, that’s ok. They are entitled to do so. In that case, you could choose to share or not share your opinion as well, and get back to blah blah blah and suck down your Starbucks. All is well. However, nasty remarks that accuse other mothers of bad parenting, such as the comment that the absent friend shouldn’t have had a baby if she wasn’t going to be around to raise it is, quite simply, someone being a straight bitch. I don’t think you’re upset with the nature of the conversation, but with the realization that you have been spending your mornings with assholes.
The situation you’re in really isn’t about this particular parenting topic. It’s about women talking shit about another woman behind her back. If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that you can bet your ass they’d do the same to you. You have to ask yourself whether or not you want to spend your time with people like that. Maybe you do. Maybe your daughter’s playgroup setting is worth putting up with them for a few hours a week. Only you can make that call. If you do, you probably want to keep in mind that these women will probably continue to say things that you don’t like. You have to choose whether or not you want to tell them that you’d prefer that they not talk about your absent friend. Just remember this, if you sit there quietly, not saying anything, then you’re being a shitty friend, too. Since it’s bothering you enough to write me, I’d guess that you probably aren’t a shitty friend. So, since you’re a grown-up and value friendship, let the bullies know that their shit talking isn’t welcome when you’re sitting at the table. Yes, they’ll probably turn their fangs on you later, but at least you stood your ground. If you’re scared to rock the boat (as many people are), look over at your daughter. Someday, someone’s going to bully her behind her back. Wouldn’t you want someone to stand up for her?
Like I said, I think your issue is really about how these women are behaving, and not so much the topic they chose. They happened to have chosen a very emotionally charged topic, one that brings out some seriously judgmental attitudes. But, no matter the topic, slamming someone who disagrees with you behind their back is just a dick move.
Good luck, and I hope for better coffee conversation in your near future.
I will briefly remark on this whole ugly issue of parents attacking other parents for having opinions that differ from their own, because this is my column and I can do whatever the hell I want. A note to the parents that know what’s best for everybody else:
Dear Judgy McShutyourface,
Don’t approve of another parent’s parenting choices? Feel the need to pass judgement on them because your choices are the correct choices, and anyone who disagrees with you is obviously a bad parent? That can really suck time out of your already busy day. I’m here to help, and I’ve got great news for you! It will free you of your self-imposed duty to inform other parents that they are (clearly) doing it wrong. Here it is…
It’s none of your fucking business. Period. Go spend your energy being the best parent you can be to your own child. You could start by setting an example for your child by not disrespecting others and/or saying shitty things about them behind their backs. Be a good role model and show your kid that Mommy’s not an asshole. That just might be the best parenting advice you’ll ever get. You’re welcome.