Why is it so hard for us to find the right words for the sufferer? We feel uncomfortable and helpless, so we strive to do something that brings comfort, not only to the sufferer but also to ourselves. We want to feel like we are helping; we want to be uplifting, hoping that somehow our optimism’s momentum can pick up the other person and drag her from despair. I have come to the conclusion that there is really only one rule that matters when bearing witness to another’s suffering.
My five year old wrote a book. Her preschool class was tasked with creating a character, developing a story around the character, and illustrating the story before slapping a title on it and binding it into a precious keepsake. I hope it will be one that survives in the annals of schoolwork as evidence to our future selves and grown-up children: We were proud! We cared! We cherished (almost) every single work of art your little hands created! For the record, five-year-olds tell stories like I do: stories that tend to be relentlessly boring, long in all the unimportant details...
Back in October, when I was buried alive in death and dying research (and before my own diagnosis with cancer), I happened upon an article written by a woman in the UK who asked her grandchildren to decorate her husband’s coffin. Yes, you read that correctly. Her beloved husband of decades passed away and right smack in the middle of her grief, she went to the store, purchased a simple pine casket, paint, and brushes and plopped it all in her front yard for her young grandkids to go to town in remembrance of their grandfather. Then she buried him in it.
How insane. I was totally enchanted.