Someone said something to me this past weekend that was meant as a statement of support. But I know he didn't mean it, because he hasn't lived up to it yet. Not once. He started by repeating the old line that I've heard from so many since I was diagnosed with cancer, "If there's anything I can do, let me know." As if I would ask someone that I have very little relationship with to do some major favor for me now. I'll repeat here what I said in a previous post, What Not To Say To A Prostate Cancer Patient. Saying that to anyone going through hard times is not helpful. We're not going to ask you for what we need unless we're very close. Maybe not even then.
Here's what you should say. Ask if there's anything you can do. Ask how you can help. If you know of a need, volunteer to meet that need. But don't tell us to let you know if we need anything. We won't.
But that's not what really bothered me about what he said. He followed that platitude by saying that he's "there for me." Really? Not that I've seen. On the list of people that I'd expect to be there for me, he's pretty near the bottom.
I've been guilty of this myself. I've never used those words with someone unless I felt very close to them and really wanted to help. But I've told plenty of people that I'd pray for them, and never did. That's just as bad. Maybe worse. It's another way of pretending to care. I used to pretend a lot before I became the victim by the side of the road, waiting for someone to be a neighbor to me. Before I got hit by God's 2 By 4. Now I really do want to help those I love. It's amazing how cancer changes your perspective.
I'm tempted to start making a list of those who have been there for me, but that would take all day. The list is long, and I'm very thankful for all of you. Cancer is bad, but The Love Part's great. I've never felt more loved and supported in my life. You are the people who've really been there for me, and continue to be.
Instead, I'll talk a little bit about what being there really is.
It's being there with emotional support. Not platitudes, but listening. A supportive call, email, message or text does wonders. Don't just ask how we're doing when you happen to see a friend in need. Call out of the blue. Send an unsolicited card, letter, email or text. Engage us in conversation. Talking really helps.
This is just as important for the spouse of a patient as it is for the patient themselves. Often the spouse is overlooked in this situation. Many want to support the patient, but few understand how much more difficult a situation like this is for the spouse. They need support too. They need someone to talk to. Be there for them.
It's being there in prayer. For people of faith, nothing has greater value. Yesterday, a large group of young people, most of whom don't know me personally, posted a short video where they said that they love me and are praying for me. If we are Facebook friends, you can see it on my timeline. Maybe you already have. It's impossible for me to describe what that meant to me. That's being there.
A small gift, just a token, can make a huge difference. A wonderful new friend recently gave me a stone that says, "Health" on one side. I carry it in my pocket at all times. It's a huge encouragement to me. I'm struggling today emotionally because I can't find it. Not because of what one thoughtless person said to me, but because my Health stone is not in my pocket, and I don't know where it is. If and when I find it, I'll feel much better.
It's not that I believe that the stone has any special powers. But it was a gift given out of love from someone who has been there for me. It's special for that reason. I could get another stone, and if I don't find the one I was given, I will. But I don't want another stone. I want that one. It's hard to explain.
My point is that it doesn't take a lot to show that you really care. It doesn't take that much to be there for someone. Just a little effort.
We can't all give large financial gifts or pitch in when help is really needed. But we can be there in other ways. I have been overwhelmed at times by the number of people who have been there in ways that they would consider small, but to me, they were huge. I'll never be able to thank you enough for being there.
But one has been there for me more than all others put together. Of course, my wife, whom you've all read about by now! Maybe I'll just write about her from now on. It seems like I'll get more readers that way. Not that I can blame you. But she's not the one I'm talking about.
A week ago in church, our pastor asked us to meditate on one thought for a few minutes. "What great love the Father has lavished on us." (1 John 3:1) His point was that we should focus on that thought for two or three minutes, and not let ourselves be distracted. But I couldn't focus on that thought for very long. Not because I was distracted, but because if I focused on how God has showered his love upon me for more than a few seconds, I would break down sobbing. I didn't want to do that in church, so I had to "look away" from that thought every few seconds. It was just too much to bear.
Because he's been there for me in ways that I can't calculate, let alone describe. He's always there. Of course, I know that's been the case for my whole life, but it's only been this real to me since he got my attention. Now his presence is so real, so present, that I can barely think about it.
I really can let him know where there's something I need. He doesn't just say that to make himself feel better. He wants me to tell him what I need, even though he knows what I need before I ask. He really is there for me.
And that's the real reason to be there for those we love. Because in doing so, we are like him. #waroncancer