Day Sixteen: Third Time’s the Charm
Today’s Prompt: Imagine you had a job in which you had to sift through forgotten or lost belongings. Describe a day in which you come upon something peculiar, or tell a story about something interesting you find in a pile.
For inspiration, ponder the phrase “lost and found.” What do you think about or visualize when you read this phrase? For an elementary schooler, it might be a box in their classroom, full of forgotten jackets and random toys. For a frequent traveler, it might be a facility in an airport, packed with lost phones, abandoned bags, and misplaced items.
On day four, you wrote about losing something. On day thirteen, you then wrote about finding something. So, today’s twist: If you’d like to continue our serial challenge, also reflect on the theme of lost and found more generally in this post.
By the end of Writing 101, you’ll have multiple posts around a theme; material you could thread together in a longform piece.
Questions to think about as you write your post:
What have you learned about loss over the years?
What does it feel like to find an object that was once important to you?
When can reconnecting go horribly wrong?
When are things better left buried and forgotten?
In your “lost and found” tale, tell us something larger — a life lesson, perhaps — about finding and losing something.
I’m continuing my series of posts about losses.
The ones I told you before: Divorce. Death. Dismissal.
Today it’s about death. My younger brother died three years ago from soft tissue sarcoma cancer.
It’s somehow a lucky coincidence, that I’m at this very moment writing from a hospital.
I’m waiting for a friend, who will undergo breast cancer surgery.
I left home early this morning, briefly watching the sun rising. Good vibes from nature to brighten a tough day ahead of my friend. I headed to her house to bring her to the hospital, a place that became so familiar after four consecutive years of my brother’s treatment.
We crossed the wide and long corridors leading to the different wards, until we reached the designated floor to report her arrival to the nurses. Pre-operation duties started with basic questions, vital signs checks, change of clothes.
We were asked to move to another room where three other patients recovered. The patients’ faces letting many emotions come openly to the surface. Pain, uncertainty, hope, acceptance…
The nurses ever so careful, attentive and kind, bring smiles and melodious voices to an sterile room.
For a non patient, this scene is most of the times difficult to bear.
It’s confrontational. It’s a mirror we don’t like to look at. We don’t want ever to be in a room like that, nor those we love. Once you have repeatedly been there, you don’t feel that punch in the stomach anymore, except for that you still wish you, and yours, won’t ever need to be there.
It’s humanizing to experience other people’s struggles. It’s humbling.
We cannot miss this opportunity to put our-little-selves into perspective.
What are our worries, how important are they?
It’s a time to make things relative to what they really are, and stop exaggerating their worth disproportionally.
What are the questions we ask ourselves everyday? What’s that question you’re asking yourself now, if you related to any of the losses I mentioned?
Stop and think about this: my friend was asked, amongst other things, if she wished to be reanimated in case of a cardiac arrest. She was clearly distraught with the question, which in short says: do you want or not to live.
This is a relevant question, perhaps the only one that maters to all of us.
We spend far too much time entertaining the ‘how-we-live’ questions and dilemmas.
Being alive or not. That, matters.
From life to death, we go through peaks and valleys.
How about enjoying the ride and focusing on the panoramic views instead of inwards looking and searching for certainties that are outside our reach and control?
That’s my lesson number one.
I’m not afraid of being here. I’m not thinking of the worse. I’m wishing for her full recovery from this battle. These are my thoughts as I walk behind her bed being pulled by two nurses to the operating room. I wish my friend well and for her to enjoy the high with the anesthesia.
While sipping a latte I observe the people around me in the coffee shop. There is a very elegant elderly lady though, greeting and smiling at everyone who arrives. After drinking her coffee I see that she walks to the lobby and leaves the hospital premises. People like that are like sun rays, spreading warmth where they pass.
I wonder who she is.
I moved to the silent reception area of the operating rooms.
Every minute there is a nurse or doctor coming by and greeting me with big smiles.
I wondered if all smiles are an early morning effect, free from stress, or are they just so friendly.
People (who love) working with health care, they care…and they look at others with more compassion. They seem to feel what you feel. They see death and life coming and going everyday. They may place more value to it than what we normally do.
Patients eyes say even more. They say I need no pity. Treat me normally, I’m not dead. Don’t fear, I’m ok. Cry when I’m not here, don’t ever lose hope. I haven’t given up.
Think about this: No one with cancer, any other disease or even just going through a difficult period, for whatever reason, need our pity.
They need strength, and hope. They need to believe they belong here, they are still with us. There isn’t anything more condescending than to look down at people, as if they are less, impaired, impotent. Don’t take their faith away from them, even if that’s all that’s left. It’s not our right to do that.
That is my lesson number two.
Listening is a precious skill. Reading between the lines too. We tend to interpret how other people feel. We assume too much. And with all of the best intentions, we may give unsolicited advise or even share all stories we know from people with similar problems.
In fact, the patient knows better than us, as we haven’t been there where they stand now.
We can’t measure other people’s suffering threshold, using our references. We may imply that they can’t and won’t make it, if we try to minimize what they say, intending for them to feel better. We may make them feel worse if we maximize their fears and concerns. Listen to them; that’s all they need. Don’t answer what you’re not asked. Don’t diagnose and prescribe solutions. We are not the doctors.
It’s both demeaning and defeating.
That’s my lesson number three.
My friend just got back from the operating room and all went well.
I was allowed in for a few minutes and witnessed the routine tasks during an early morning at a surgery ward. Drowsy faces waking up, wishing each other a better day, inquiring about their progress.
An old lady shares her story. She is a tourist in Amsterdam, who broke her pelvic bone in the first days of vacations. She has been confined to two weeks in a hospital bed. Change of plans. Vacations are no longer in sight. She is undergoing tremendous pain but she is still cheerful and chatty. And she says: “It’s a pity I tripped over my feet and that accident happened, but it could have been much worse.”
My friend looked at me and said, “my situation could have been worse too”.
I thought of her facial expression earlier, when having to decide to be or not reanimated.
She’s alive, that’s what matters. Remember that? But it could have been worse.
That’s my lesson number four.
While in the midst of our problems, we tend to think a lot about it. Feeding it like a hungry beast and consuming ourselves with fear. What helps overcoming problems or speeding up recovery, is not how much miserable we feel, but how least attention we give to it.
We are better off by not branding ourselves as ‘the problem” or ‘the disease’. We are not the disease. Unless we gave in to fighting back.
That’s my lesson number five.
I haven’t told you yet about my brother’s passing.
It has been over three years, and I miss him since the day he passed, and as much as I will always love and miss him.
What is important to share now, is what I learnt from his experience. That’s what helps me being here with my friend, prepared to be here for her, as she needs.
The ‘lessons’ I mentioned above, are some of the many I learned from him and his experience with cancer. I’m not saying that it is easy nor that I’m now perfectly knowing how to behave correctly, when once more being at a hospital with a cancer patient.
As long as I care for others, I try to give what I know best, to help them feel better. I have the choice to ponder though. So next time think of them first, and on how they may feel. Wait for their directions. Listen. Reflect. Slow down.
You will be surprised to discover how much their experience can teach you about the way you think and see the world.
We can never help anyone, if we don’t know ourselves well enough and are happy within our skin. When we are able to differentiate ‘I’ from ‘YOU’, we find the way to people’s hearts. Because just like you and me, when in distress, all they want is simply love.