Thursday, April 2, 2009

Good News It's Not Cancer

So goes the punchline of story that I often tell of my family and the way we (don't) communicate. It was about five years ago, and my parents had invited us over for supper. Myrna said, "Bill, don't you have something to tell your daughter?"

"Oh, yes," he said, "Good news it's not Cancer."

My head popped up from my plate, and I squeaked, "WHAT's not Cancer?"

"It was a bit of folded over lung about the size of a cigar, a shadow on the x-ray, that got everyone excited. It was nothing." He'd had an MRI to confirm and it was nothing to worry about. It was just his emphysema acting up.

"What's it going to take before you tell me what's going on? Do you have to be in intensive care?"

My gosh, the way we don't communicate in this family. He'd rather let me blithely traipse through life than give me a single extra day of worry. Thanks, dad. Let's not mention years of guilt wondering how I could have missed that he wasn't well and regret that I wasn't at his side in his time of need.

That's what it's like for a good part of my family. Deep feeling or displeasure is expressed with a scowl or a look. If you want to get a sense of that look, watch Clint Eastwood as Walt in Gran Torino. Walt has a stare and growl that he seems to reserve for his careless grandchildren. Dad's got that look, too. You know you've blown it but you're left in the dark as to why. After all, Walt and dad would agree, you should have known.

So anyways, I'm around the kitchen table again, sharing the "Good News It's Not Cancer" story with my family, and my little sister pipes up, "Well, I have a good news story for you, too, then."

My head pops up, "WHAT?"

"Remember when I was off for a week for surgery? You don't think they do a hysterectomy on just everybody these days, do you? Remember all those years you begged and they wouldn't do it?"

Astounded, I looked back and forth between my sister and my dad. "Why don't you share the burden, why don't you share the pain? I could have worried with you!"

Those two "Walt"s calmly shared a look and looked back at me. My sister answered "Why should you?"

Oh, my gosh, my family is incorrigible. We're social creatures after all. These terrors and setbacks don't have to be shared alone, like a wounded animal slinking off to the woods to die. Share the pain, pet a cat, look deeply in the eyes of someone who knows. Pain shared is pain relieved. In the community, the pain spreads out like a blanket and disperses. The pain is not longer a tsunami but a ripple.