Friday, September 28, 2007

Lessons Learned

Three and a half years ago it was very hard to tell people that our beautiful 10 year old son had a BRAIN TUMOR. Our hearts were bleeding and our souls were exposed. We expected sympathy and a hug if we knew the person and we always got that. But, what often followed was a story of their own---someone they knew or had heard of, who also had a brain tumor or had died of one. I used to stand in disbelief that this person thought I would want to hear this. Chink and my mom also experienced the same situations. I am not a psychologist, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that this must be some part of human nature to feel like sharing—almost by sharing they were letting us know they could relate to our pain. This is a lesson the three of us have learned. If some one tells you something like this, be a good listener. Give them sympathy and understanding and close your mouth on the stories that will probably pop into your head. They DO NOT need or want to hear them.

The other thing that is related to this, has only happened to me. Chink is not a talker, my mother is Karl’s grandmother and most people can’t relate to the fact that she is grieving so much, so this lesson is about Karl’s mother, me. I cried about this during the days before his death. Who could I be daily friends with? Some of the best friends I have ever made are mothers of Karl’s friends. I find it hard to make good friends. For 20 years I have been self employed in a perennial nursery where the other two workers are my mom and Chink. I loved the time with nature, but there weren’t many other people around. So, through Karl, I made friends with some wonderful people who will always be my friends, but we will no longer have the kid connection. We are going to work at remaining friends, but I knew even before he died I was going to have to move on and I didn’t want to.

One of the things I’ve done is join Meadowmont, an exercise center. My good friend Kitty Harrison helped me join and encouraged me because she knew the exercise would be good for me. She has been right. I do feel better for it. I had thought it might be a place to meet some new people, but as I look around, most people are churning away on their machines with headphones on listening to their form of escape. One day I did find a delightful woman walking the upstairs track as I was without headphones on and I complimented her on her hair, she smiled, and we ended up walking our mile together talking. Of course the conversation turned to the lack of rain and I found out she lives in the neighborhood near Phillips Middle School where Karl was a student. I know the neighborhood well because I used to take my dogs and walk before it was time for the last bell to ring to end the school day. I mentioned that my son used to go to school there and she eventually asked if he was at East Chapel Hill High School. I had to say, no I’m sorry to say that he died this spring and went on to explain that I was doing this book drive in his memory. She of course was shocked and as she recovered she started sharing stories with me about her 28 year old niece who as breast cancer, and the stories continued. I came home telling Chink about it and his reaction was just don’t mention it. But, this is what women talk about. We ask each other about our families, where we live, where we work. Karl has been the center of my life for 14 years and I don’t want to cover that up. I can’t. But, what I also can’t do is hear other people’s serious health problems right now. I mean, I know nothing about breast cancer. So, what I have been practicing is right after I tell them that Karl has died, I have to tell them that most people seem to need to share some health problem they know of, and right now I can’t handle that. This is hard for me to do. Basically saying “shut up” in a nice way. I have been role playing with myself on my dog walks in the woods. Karl and I used to role play situations that were bothering him. So far, I haven’t gotten up nerve to say it.

So, once again the lesson is to be a good listener and then shut your mouth to those thoughts of sharing other stories. Mothers like me are maxed out in that department.

Thanks for letting me share. My love,

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