Thursday, May 7, 2015

Say What?

These cards are for people who don't know what to say to someone with cancer. If you read the link, you'll discover they were designed by a woman whose friends dropped away because they didn't know what to say to her, or said the wrong thing.

I get that people are scared of  stuffing a foot in their mouths and chowing down. I also get that one might not have a clue what to say to a person with cancer, or any other disease or infirmity that makes regular healthy humans want to turn tail and run.

I understand. I empathize.
Now get over it.
It could be you someday. If so, then what would you like your friends and family to do?

The above is harsh, but I don't care. Here's why:
I've had conversations with people who cannot respond be it properly or at all. I saw in their eyes and body language how happy they were I'd spoken with them anyway.

Back in the late 1980s I worked at the daily newspaper in Ft. St. John in northeastern B.C. Once a month I went to the seniors' lodge to take photos of the high games scorers in foosball (or something like it) for the month.
One fellow, Lee Olson, often won. He'd had a stroke that left his left arm useless at his side, but otherwise was physically okay. But it had affected a part of his brain leaving him able to carry on all kinds of conversations, but only with swear words.
He seemed like a warm, kind, happy man. Whenever he saw me he'd have a big smile on his face. He'd always come over to say hello with a long, drawn out,  "Aaaa, shit. Jesus Christ."
His face got crinkly, his eyes shone, and he would curse and cuss and swear all in a pleasant conversational tone.
On occasion I'd sit with him a moment. I asked a few questions. I assumed he was asking me some and used logic to determine what they might be.
In their own way the conversations were enjoyable and they were a great stretch  especially as I normally despise small talk.

It was good practice for later. Several years ago here in Rocky a woman who'd been in the air force with my mother during the Second World War war had a stroke or the like and was in the hospital.
I stopped in to see her one day. She was unable to talk, but her eyes lit up when she saw me. Her head moved and her mouth opened and I believe she was trying to talk.
I reasoned out the kinds of things she might want to know and told her.
She seemed happy and engaged in the conversation, and probably grateful for the visit.

If you don't know what to say to someone put yourself in their place and give it some thought.
What did you talk about before the disease? What would you want to hear?

Here a few ideas to get you started.

How about those playoffs/footballers/ mud wrestlers?
Did you hear what____did?
Did you catch last night's episode of ___?
Let's go for a drive/walk/sit outside.
Up for a movie?
I'll take the kids for the day.
I'm here to look after things while you nap.
Can you eat? I brought chocolate/nachos/pizza.
You want peace and quiet? I'll see to it.
Everything at the office is going to hell without you.

In short have as normal a conversation as is possible under the given circumstances.


messymimi said...

Yes! And do the same to have conversations with people who are mentally challenged. They love it when you shake hands, introduce yourself, and just talk to them about normal, average stuff.

Leah J. Utas said...

Messymimi, excellent point. And thanks.

DJan said...

This is a wonderful and very necessary post, Leah. I have a friend who recently died of cancer, and when I went to her memorial service, several of us talked about how hard it was to keep going, what to say, etc. You do sound like a very special soul, and your blog reaches out to help others, just as you do in your life. Thank you. :-)

Tabor said...

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I so wish I had read a post like this when my sister contracted cancer and died within the year. I will have regrets until I, too, leave this earth!

Leah J. Utas said...

DJan, you are most welcome. And thanks. I get that it is difficult, but having been on both sides of it I can say just talk like you always do.

Tabor, it was my pleasure. I am sorry about your sister, and I hope the regrets don't eat at you.

solarity said...

Somehow I was expecting a pack of cards to carry with you and shuffle to come up with appropriate remarks. I could use something like that for any random conversation, cancer or not.

Mary Anne in Kentucky

David Cranmer said...

Very good advice, Leah.

Barbara Martin said...

Its always nice to read good advice like this. Life is short enough and to speak kindly to everyone is helpful for one's own peace.

Crabby McSlacker said...

I often feel like I don't know what to say when someone's dealing with tough stuff, but I've never ever regretted making the effort even if I feel fumbly and self-conscious. Thanks for a great post!