Thursday, 7 February 2008

Lost for Words

Over the last few weeks I have heard of two people who have been diagnosed with cancer. One is a dear friend’s father who has not been given long to live. My mate sent me an email saying she couldn’t talk right then but would ring later. She rang and I was speechless. Apart from saying I’m sorry, she started crying and I did too. Absolutely no comfort to the poor thing.

The other was a dogwalking friend whom I don’t know very well. I got out of the car to walk Moll early this morning and there was Olga, looking very pale. I asked if she was all right and she said, “I’ve had some bad news.”

I asked what it was, and she said, “well, you know I’ve had breast cancer and had both breasts removed.”

“No,” I said, my heart sinking.

“I heard yesterday that they’ve found more cancer and it’s spread.” She looked at me uncomprehendingly. “I’m flabbergasted. I didn’t ask the right questions and I can’t believe it.”

I gave her a big hug and said I was so sorry – what stupid words, meaningless, trite and worthless. And I cursed the lack of words – but what do you say? Our language is like food nowadays; there’s too much choice, we overuse the ones that are bad for us and don’t select high quality ones of real meaning. We use takeaway words that are pre-selected, bantered by the media and served in the chiller department, easy to grab, easy to use. Mixed metaphors? You'd be mixed if you were served up cancer.

When it comes to a disaster, we don’t have the right ones to hand. Or we’ve forgotten how to use them.

Or perhaps a cuddle is better than words?

21 comments:

Rebecca Taunton said...

I think knowing that someone is there for you is more meaningful than what words can say. I'm sorry about your two friends, it must be so heartbreaking for them both.

Flowerpot said...

I think you're right RT - I certainly hope so. And yes, it is heartbreaking.

JJ said...

Yep, I agree with Rebecca. Still seeing them, asking after them, letting them cry - all of it's fine. It's the ceasing of communication out of embarrassment or awkwardness that is so awful. You did the right thing Flowerpot - don't give yourself a hard time.
JJx

Flowerpot said...

jj - yes you hear so many people saying about the lack of communication because people dont know what to say. What a muddle headed lot we are!

Debs said...

So sorry to hear about your two friends. A good friend of mine died just before Christmas and it is hard to know what to say but I took my cue from her. Some days she was happy and others utterly fed up with the whole thing. I listened while she joked or cried, depending on her mood.

Flowerpot said...

debs - so sorry to hear about your friends but I think you're right - best to see how they are.

Miss Understood said...

You couldn't have done anything other than what you did.

What would you want someone to say to you if you were in that situtaion? Sometimes, FP, there are no words, are there?

HelenMH said...

Both my parents were diagnosed with cancer and then died. I didn't really know what to say to them about the cancer. So I just said 'You know I love you', and hoped that helped.

The Rotten Correspondent said...

I'm not sure I ever get the words right. I'm not sure what the right words even are.

All we can do is be there for each other.

Sweet Irene said...

You are right about people overusing language. It seems that everybody is always overdoing it and very often the words don't match the occasion. I myself like understatement and I don't like people who overflow with verbs and adjectives. Maybe that's because I'm Dutch and Dutch people don't like a show of emotions.

Little Wing said...

Flowerpot, I think you said the exact right thing. Sometimes it is the only thing we can say.
Just a heartfelt "I'm sorry"......bless both of these ladies.

Flowerpot said...

MissU - no I don't think there are words. My dad died of cancer over 20 years ago and I can't remember what I said to him. I used to send him postcards every day - funny ones - and he loved those.

Flowerpot said...

helen - that sounds a lovely thing to say. What could be better?

RC - yes I think you're right. and teh right words will be different for different people.

Flowerpot said...

Little Wing - thanks for your encouragement.

Sweet Irene - I quite agree about the language. Too many adjectives are really not necessary in my opinion. But then we all like different things.

Aoj & The Lurchers said...

When I was diagnosed with cancer, sympathy and kind words were the last things that I could cope with. I couldn't deal with people struggling to find the right words and a hug was the best thing that anyone could give me. I was fortunate, at least my cancer wasn't life threatening, quite how you come to terms with knowing it's terminal I can't begin to imagine..

Akelamalu said...

You know Flowerpot when you can't find the right words a hug is just the ticket - you gave comfort honey. Cancer is such a terrible disease, frightening and heartbreaking. I feel for you honey.


I know you're going away (like me) for the weekend - try to have a good time - you can't change what's meant to be. xx

Ellee Seymour said...

Sometimes there are no words, and that is what you have to say, just that. And yes, a hug is worth a thousand words of support.

Flowerpot said...

AOJ - I'm so glad you are on the mend. Hugs it is then.

Ak - cancer is also very isolating. It makes you feel very alone, I found. Havea good weekend and plenty of wine!

ellee - glad you agree. have a good weekend yourself and keep healthy.

Daniele said...

A hug and a patient ear to listen is very valuable.. much more so than words.
You did great flowerpot.

BreadBox said...

FP: having had to deal with the shock and horror of hearing from my mother that she had ((in my family previously an unmentionable word for more than 35 years)) a year ago, I feel for you, and for your friends.
In my mum's case, she came through --- with a few heartbreaking worries, such as when she got dehydrated from the chemo: suddenly *she* wasn't there any more: just some woman I didn't recognize, who didn't know who I was either --- and is now completely back to what is now her normality. But my god, it was heartbreaking, and very.very.very scary.

And through it all, what *I* needed was to know that I had people to talk to --- who loved me enough that if I burst into tears they'd understand --- I didn't need the hugs, but they helped --- what I needed was the people who'd help me to let the tears flow instead of being plugged up inside.

And now, damn it, I'm tearing up again.
Be the best friend you can. And most of that is listening, and yes, hugging. And being there when needed.
N.

Flowerpot said...

daniele - thanks m'dear.

Breadbox - Thanks for that N. I send a big big hug to you. And a box of cyber hankies!