2. Forget Me Not
After I got sick, the mail brimmed with beautiful cards and doodled letters. Knocks on the door meant flowers or a wonderful handmade present. People brought soup and magazines, hugged me, and then disappeared. The impulse to do something took many forms, each an expression of a wonderful person’s best self.
The postal service struggles to remain relevant, delivering mostly bills and flyers, but I looked forward to the day’s mail. It made me feel loved. I tried to resist the urge to tear all the jelly bean– coloured envelopes open at the door, instead carrying them inside to savour on the sofa with a cup of tea. I loved what the choice of card told me about each sender, and the sweet sentiments they shared. It was the best part of my day.
But things changed. I’ve been sick a long time. And if I’m lucky, I’ll be sick a long time yet. I need to conserve my energy, and so do my supporters. And I will need so much more help when this gets worse.
For now, with my disease more or less stabilized by drugs through a clinical trial, I am able to take care of myself. But that’s not the same thing as caring for myself. I need other people to care for me. And it’s not fair to ask my husband to be all things — and yet more and more, I ask him to be just that, and he is.
I don’t need the gorgeous home-cooked food right now, although it’s delicious and appreciated. A time will come when I need much more of that kind of help. So, in fear of burning out my supporters before I’m incapacitated, I try not to ask for much.
And since I’m not asking, people are timid. They don’t want to get in the way or make me feel bad when I say, “No, thank you.” They don’t want to risk saying the wrong thing and upsetting me. Because who knows what to say when somebody they love is dying — and dying, not now, but on some indeterminate later date?
There is no right or wrong thing to say. Language becomes a labyrinth of well-intentioned missteps that offers scarce moments of clarity. Click-bait articles with titles such as “12 things never to say to someone who has cancer” list highly personal pet peeves, none of which necessarily applies to the cancer patient near you. Everyone’s cancer is personal.
The stakes are too high. We don’t want to upset the people we love. So we pull back and away. It’s no wonder that so many people find it easier to say nothing at all.
And so the shower of thoughtful gestures dries to a trickle, and fear calcifies the silence. And I, at the moment not in acute crisis, give up my place in the front of your mind. I yield because I know there’s something more pressing.
While you’re out in the world, among the people and the glorious mess of living, I’m still here — alone, more often than not. And a tiny little voice in my heart is whispering as loud as it can: “Please don’t let me be forgotten.” Not now, not yet.