An antidote for the hurt

Here I am, emerging from another long radio silence. I haven’t blogged not for lack of things to talk about but because all the posts I considered writing seemed superficial to what’s really been on my mind of late. Today I’m ready to say f*ck it and just write about what’s really been on my mind in spite of the chance it might make anyone who reads it feel heavy too. I hope it doesn’t do that. I hope you’re able to find something good.

My 18-year-old second cousin, whom I’m close enough to to just call my cousin, has been dealing for the past two years with a diagnosis of medulloblastoma, an aggressive type of cancerous brain tumor. Just before Thanksgiving and after a long stretch of thinking things were going well in his battle, he got some pretty bad news about his prognosis. Last week he went through his second serious brain surgery. This week he’s finding happiness in getting to spend Christmas at home before starting another round of chemo.

My cousin is the first young person dear to my heart that I’ve seen suffer with a serious illness. My loved ones have been a fairly healthy bunch, and it is never, ever lost on me that the only people in my life whose deaths I grieve each managed to live a fully and long life before they passed.

For the past few weeks, so many of the thoughts and experiences I’ve had have gone through the filter of what my cousin is going through and how our family is facing it. He has been very open about what he’s going through and has a huge network of family, friends and strangers cheering him and his strength on. Because he’s open about what he’s going through, when the bad news comes in his hurt is known to all. He faces his pain publicly.

For the most part I’ve been able to challenge the pain of watching my cousin face his illness and my family struggle with it into remembering to fully live my life and appreciating each day for what it is. I still hurt about it from time to time about what he’s having to deal with and what me may miss out on, and when I hurt, I usually do it privately. My tears only seem to escape when I’m in my bedroom, alone with my thoughts. When I’m seriously angry, I sulk about it quietly. This is not just in my reaction to my cousin’s illness, though. This is my M.O. for day-to-day struggles, for better or for worse.

A few days ago I was seething about some things. One person mocked me in a tweet directed toward my work Twitter account. Others around me were bitching and obsessing about work-related things that were not in any way important. If I wanted to remain professional, I could not respond the way I really wanted to so I chose to remain silent. Their words hurt. Remaining silent hurt. I sulked about it for a few hours and then channeled my energy into a baking project that finally helped me let it go. I’m sure there are plenty of less-sensitive folks who wouldn’t have been bothered by what upset me. Maybe on a day when everyone in my family is healthy and happy it wouldn’t bother me either.

Now, I’m no saint in this equation. Just as easily as my feelings can be hurt by a simple tweet can I dole out my own judgmental observation or snarky remark toward someone. Even knowing the preschool lesson of being nice to one another is the right thing to do, being unkind is sometimes the far easier thing to do — especially when we might not like someone or even know them. This world is tough, and we see evidence of that every day in job loss, economy woes, political stubbornness, homelessness and hunger. I think I’ve become hardened by the world’s toughness to the point that I make my own contributions through sarcastic comments or laughing at the expense of another.

My cousin suffers but I want to try to make something good out of what I’m learning from hurting with him and for him him. I was given a very small reminder of how easily unkindness can hurt, especially when you don’t know if or how someone is suffering. And in this day and age it’s a safe bet that everyone is suffering in some way.

So in honor of him, I’m working harder on being kind to everyone. I’m trying to withhold judgments, sarcasm and negative gossip. I’m trying to spread smiles and warm wishes. I’m trying to keep in mind that I don’t know what’s going on in someone’s head, and I trying to remember that a little kindness can go a long way sometimes. It may not keep those around us from hurting, but maybe it will keep them from hurting more.

And I’m asking you to do the same. I’m not asking you to be perfect, because that’s impossible. I’m just asking that you try to be a little bit kinder every single day for people like my cousin who are hurting publicly and greatly and for the people around you who might be hurting privately too.

This entry was posted in family, health and exercise, life, personal experience. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to An antidote for the hurt

  1. Mel says:

    Oh, MG, I’m so, so sorry for what you, your cousin and family are currently going through. Truly.

    I think it’s important to be kind as human beings, but that can sometimes get lost amidst our own struggles and hardships (I’m guilty of it, for certain). I am impressed with your ability to repress your hurt feelings and channel in a thoughtful, productive way. And in the same way as you, I will keep your cousin in my thoughts as I pay my kindness forward to others. {{big Internet hugs}}

    BTW, do you read the Secret Agent L blog by any chance? http://www.secretagentl.com/ The selfless love that L and her “secret agents” around the world have for others is remarkable (and I had the pleasure of having SAL be one of my first friends in Pittsburgh)

    • themoderngal says:

      You make a really great point in that people’s unkindness is usual a function of the fact they’re hurting about something. The irony in it all is that by treating others kindly or doing something nice for them, you usually end up hurting less.

      I do not read SAL, but I will definitely check it out. Sounds like something I would enjoy!

  2. Vanessa says:

    I never know what to say in these instances other than I’m sorry you and your family are hurting. Illness is unfair and knows no bounds. I hope your cousin fairs well through the battle of chemo. Many good thoughts and prayers coming your way.

  3. Andrea says:

    So sorry to hear about your cousin. It is always awful when our family members are sick and hurting. I hope his surgery was successful and his chemo will be over quickly.

  4. I’m so with you on this. I lost a friend in childbirth the day after Thanksgiving, very sudden and unexpected and so, so tragic.

    Ever since then, so many things really don’t seem to matter. Life is so short, why spend it being annoyed and irritated and negative? I never know what someone else’s personal situation is, even if I think I do.

    • It’s horrible that sometimes it takes tragedy to make us think this way, but maybe we’ll be able to hang on to the feeling for a long time. I remember a line from Six Feet Under (and I’m going to butcher this, I’m sure) — ‘Why do we have death?’ ‘To make life more important.’

  5. angie says:

    love and hate this post at the same time – love your message, but hate you are going through this. hopefully my card brought a smile :)

  6. sizzle says:

    A very good reminder to be kinder. How we forget and get wrapped up in our own bullshit. We’re all fighting our own battles, aren’t we? I’m sorry about your cousin.

  7. Aww man. Positive thoughts and a hopefully very happy holidays (with good chemo results) to your cousin.

  8. courtney says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your cousin. I’ll be thinking of him and hoping for a recovery.

    It’s so hard to understand when someone so young is faced with something like a serious illness. I had my first experience with that this year too. I think the best way to deal with it is exactly what you’re doing — taking the negative and turning it into something good to do with your life. It’s so true that you can never judge others — you don’t ever know what anyone else is going through in life.

    • It really is hard to understand, but I guess we have to take comfort that their lives have been meaningful, even if they’ll be tragically short. And we can make their spirits live on and grow through our own responses to their death or illness.

  9. iris says:

    This post/your lesson reminds me a little of a talk by David Foster Wallace: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122178211966454607.html It’s interesting and worth a read. I’m working on being less judgmental, too.

    I have never had to experience someone close to me suffer or die. I am really afraid of when it actually happens, but if I manage to handle it how you are doing, I believe that would be a good accomplishment. These things hurt, I can’t even imagine.

    But I, too, use cooking as a way to escape my thoughts. It’s nice to fill your belly with the achievements of your distracted mind, too.

    • That DFW speech was fantastic. Thank you for sharing. The sad thing is, had I heard that at my own commencement I probably would have thought he was crazy. Now I read it and think it’s the most practical commencement speech I’ve ever heard or read.

  10. Meredith says:

    I’m so sorry your cousin and family is dealing with something so difficult at this time of year. I’ll be keeping all of you in my thoughts and prayers. And I think any time we can be a little bit nicer to everyone, it helps more than we ever know.

  11. allison says:

    It is so hard to deal with when someone is suffering from a disease like this. It makes you more aware of how much others take for granted, small things and makes you appreciate the time you spend with EVERYONE that much more. A phone call, a dinner, a funny text. While my dad still has 3 month check ups, I still wait for the text to say, “No major changes, still too small to trace” and let out a deep breath.

    • The awareness has been such a big thing for me, and it wasn’t quite something that came when my Grandmother (who I was very close to) passed away. When you really see the possibility of how life can be seemingly shortened, you start to realize how much every moment, every day is a gift. While it’s been wonderful to have that frame of mind for myself I have to be careful not to get frustrated with others who don’t have it.

Comments are closed.