Coming out of Clatterbridge hospital yesterday, and something happened that had me struggling not to cry. By the entrance there are a couple of benches. It's where patients (and a few visitors) drag their IVs out and have a smoke. I hate walking past as I always get a great lung full of smoky air. Yesterday as I walked out a man had just sat down. He was older, maybe in his late 60s and looked like a visitor. I expected him to get out his pack of fags. Instead he rested his arms on his knees and his head on his hands and very quietly began to sob. I didn’t know if I should stop and comfort him or leave him alone. I’m not sure I would have helped, I would have been crying along with him. I hate cancer so much.
Since that happened, I have thought of that man frequently. I asked my husband if he’d cried for me. My husband is the type who just doesn’t cry. It’s not that he doesn’t have emotions, he does… I think. He simply keeps his feelings close to his chest. He reacts by going quiet, pretending it away until he can function again. When I asked Mike if he’d cried, he was decidedly noncommittal. He said he might have, that if he had it would have been when I was first diagnosed in 2012.
Thinking about the man on the smokers’ bench and weeping so openly has made me think about grief, how we all cope so differently. I have cried, but I guess Mike and I are a good match, as I have yet to fall apart and have a great big breakdown. I get though each day. I openly hate my chemo. I grumble about the short life I am likely to have, and I chide myself for not writing more, for spending too much time on Facebook and The Daily Mail. I waste time, and I do it knowing there’s a whole lot less in the bank than nearly everyone who is my age.
I admire my cancer friends. I have a number of them. I guess when you have a certain affliction, well to speak in clichés: birds of a feather flock together. Some of my friends are in remission. Some are fighting, but better off than me. Some are fighting and I’m the one that’s better off. Too many have lost their battle.
One friend in particular, I’m going to call her Betty, is no longer on treatment. Betty is amazing. Instead of curling up and waiting for the end, she is living her life in spectacular style. I have yet to see her without her wide grin. Betty is inspiring to me. When we were messaging each other one day, I asked her how she copes knowing the end is nigh. Betty has cystic fibrosis. She explained that all her life, she expected to die early. It is because of this that instead of falling into depression she has lived her short life. She has packed in more than most 70 year olds, and she’s mid-thirties.
Betty is a true inspiration to me. I can’t really hold a candle to her. I’ve spent too many years bumbling though life at my own relaxed, slow speed. And yet I have changed. She has made me a better person. I am certain I am not the only one. Betty has already left a legacy.
Back to grief, and that poor man, crying on the bench. I wish now that I hadn’t walked past. I wish I’d sat next to him, cried with him, held his hand and dug out a tissue to dry his tears. I wish I’d said stupid words that do nothing to take away the pain. I am human, we should protect our own, and maybe my ability to cope with my own situation might have rubbed off. To quote Lord of the Rings: to give him light where there is none.
Next time I will stop. I will weep with him. I will do what I should have done, what we all should do: comfort those in need.