When leaving a restaurant last week I ran into an old tax business associate. After we had greeted each other she suddenly blurted out, "You know I have cancer, don't you?" I was speechless for a second and then said all that I could think of to say, "I'm so sorry Debra. I did not know that you were ill." After which she began to tell me about her sudden collapse and the eventual diagnosis of her disease and optional treatment choices.
Did I handle this right? What should I have said to this woman only 10 years my senior? She has a disease which she knows will kill her, the doctor said there is no cure for this. I feel as though I failed to provide the needed response to her revelation. I can only guess at what she must be going thorough, so was just listening to her enough?
On the drive home, my thoughts went to other times when I'd had no idea what to say to ease another's pain. When my brother-in-law broke down a the funeral home during the visitation for his 20 yr old son, all I could do was sit in the floor with his head in my lap and hold him and cry with him. I felt useless for not knowing what to do. It was the same 8 months later when my sister lost her first born at age 25. My youngest sister and I stayed with her as she watched him die. Was it enough?
I don't know their pain. I hope I never do. Maybe all I could do was listen, or hold them, or be there, because maybe there are no words.