I have a good friend who's dealing with grief right now. In a recent conversation, I started to make the mistake of saying, "I know how you feel." But I caught myself and said, "I don't know how you feel. I have no idea how you feel. But I'll sit in the mud with you while you feel this way."
I don't think I came up with that phrase. She might have said it in a previous conversation. I'm not sure. I may have gotten it from her the way I think she and her husband got a cold from me. Sorry, guys. Whoever came up with it, it's an apt metaphor for difficult times.
My friend and I have known each other for just over a year. Our friendship bonded around tragedy in her life and cancer in mine. We both realized a while ago (or at least I did - she probably knew it long before) that that's what people in our situation want. We don't want platitudes. We don't want advice or cheerleading. We definitely don't want to be told how to feel. We just want someone to sit in the mud with us.
I think that's what's been so valuable to me and many others about the online support groups dedicated to prostate cancer. There are a whole bunch of people there sitting in the same mud puddle I'm sitting in. I've made some valuable friendships in those groups. There is discussion and information that's helpful, but mainly, it's just nice having people who are there, who understand the nature of your mud.
But it's not necessary to understand. What's more important is just being there in the mud. Presence, not absence. That's what matters to those of us who are stuck there.
The thing about sitting in mud is, it gets messy. If you get too close to my muddy mess, you might get some on you. If you actually sit next to me in it, you'll get as muddy as I am. But that's exactly what I need. I need someone to sit in the mud with me. I need as many people who will do that as possible.
Not everyone will do it. When your mud is grief over the loss of a loved one that nobody understands except you, or a terminal illness that nobody wants to talk about, the number of people willing to just sit with you in it shrinks significantly. It isn't comfortable. Conversations tend to stray away from the light and pleasant, and nobody wants that.
So rather than get down in the mud, some shout platitudes from dry ground. He's in a better place. Keep fighting, you can beat this. Some actually tell us to get over ourselves, get up out of the mud and take a shower. Change our clothes and get on with our lives. As if our lives will ever be the same.
I am blessed to have people who will sit in the mud with me. I have so many, I'll never feel alone. I'm grateful for every one of you. Especially my grieving friend, who sits in her own mud. I think we have adjacent puddles or something.
Therapy is also very valuable to me for this reason. A therapist is someone who's paid to sit in the mud with you! If you have a good one, they will. And I have a very good one. I expect her to sit in the mud with me for the rest of my life.
Part of the difficulty of the mud puddle is feeling like you won't ever be completely clean again. Speaking for myself, I know I'll never be cancer free. I'll do what I can to extend my life, in accordance with my beliefs, but it will take a miracle to cure me. Nothing less. So I'll be in this puddle for the rest of my life, however long or short that is.
════════════════════════Update: I need to add a few thoughts to this post one year later. I'm in hospice care now, and the closer I get to death, the more true this is. Some who were in this puddle with me a year ago have decided to back away. I call it The Shrinking Of The Circle, which will be a new blog post soon. The harder things get, the fewer people are willing to stay close. My mud has become too messy for them. But there are a precious few who are still here with me in my mud puddle, including the friend of which I speak. She has promised to sit in the mud with me until my last breath. She wants to. I can't tell you what that means to me.
This is what it means to be a friend. Friendship is as friendship does. If you are not willing to sit in the mud with your dying friend, you are no friend at all. It's a harsh statement, but it's true. If you're not willing to stay close to a friend in their darkest hour because of how it makes you feel, you're making it about you. Sitting in the mud is not fun or pleasant. But that's what love is.
════════════════════════Some puddles dry up faster than others. It's not my job to tell anyone else how fast they should get out of their puddle. If I call myself their friend, it's my job to sit with them in it for as long as they need me to.
I didn't figure that out until I fell into this puddle I'm in. I didn't realize how much my friends needed me when they were stuck in the mud until I was. I'm trying to be that kind of friend now, but I have my own mud to deal with.
Your mud may not be grief or illness. There are countless varieties of mud that we can find ourselves sitting in, but they all can be made better if someone will just sit in it with us.
Here's a reminder to everyone who believes in the Nativity we just celebrated. It was the greatest example of what I'm talking about ever. God himself became an infant, and got down in the mud with us. He didn't just sit on his throne and shout at us about how we should live. He got his hands dirty, and his feet, and the rest of him. He did it for the same reason we should do it for each other. Love. So if you need a reason to sit in the mud with someone you say you love, here's one; It's Christlike.
Love doesn't shout platitudes from dry ground. It doesn't give unsolicited advice or judge. Love sits in the mud for as long as it's needed. #waroncancer