When a friend of mine had a mastectomy, her family rallied around her. Her mother took care of her young children, her sister did the shopping, and her husband sat with her in the hospital every day. But, her closest friends were conspicuously absent, even after the surgery was over. When they finally arrived to pay a visit, they chattered on about everything but her illness and acted as if nothing had occurred. She needed to talk it through with friends. When she got home and they visited again, they said; “Call if you need help.” And they meant it.
But, if they had seen someone drowning, they would have jumped in to save that person. I doubt whether anybody would say: “Call if you need help.” “I’m going supermarket shopping. Give me a list and I’ll get what you need.” Or, “Come over for dinner.” Or, “Let’s eat out tomorrow night,” is what they could have said. They didn’t know how to behave around her although they wanted to do something.
I felt the same way when our son was in a psychiatric hospital. I was asked. “If there is anything we can do, please don’t hesitate to ask.” I was far too mixed up and upset to reply even. What I needed was help to sort out my thoughts, help to know where to turn next but I was to blame in a way as some friends tried to get me to talk about it but I was so shell-shocked that I could not open up to anyone at that time. If only they had spoken to me in the privacy of our home, it might have been easier but they often asked questions about David when we were at weddings or visiting. How were they to know that I felt as if I were choking. I could never say; “He’s getting better, thank you.” For 16 years he did not get better. He was in a hospital where he was supposed to be getting help, yet his condition worsened. Or he was at home where his very presence made for even more tension in the family. We did not understand ourselves what was happening to him. How could we explain all this to someone else? But, when I was ready to talk, I realized that if I had shared my heartbreak from the start, it would have been so much easier for me.
My hopes and dreams for my son were slowly disappearing. The future he’d been planning was slipping away. No profession, no wedding, no wife or children. I was losing the son that I knew, the happy young man wih the lovely smile.
When my parents died, I lost a large part of my past. When David became so ill, I realized that I was losing a large part of my future. When disharmony or illness is all invasive, life becomes dysfunctional. What we had to change was the way we were dealing with our tragedy. This was difficult when some people whose children had been in the same kindergarten as David crossed the street when they saw me as it was easier for them. I know that they spoke about me behind my back. I don’t think that they were being nasty. They simply did not know how to approach me.