I just got this message this afternoon,“…brace yourself cus this isn’t good news…” followed by a detailed note from my brother who is a nurse, letting us know that our older brother was diagnosed with prostate cancer today. Good things in the note like, “he is not suffering and he likes his doctor” were interspersed with bad things like, “He will have a bone scan next week to see if it has spread…cancer considered aggressive…” I pictured a roller coaster as I read this bad news.
PROBLEM: How do you cope with bad news and keep going?
SOLUTION: Somewhere in my thinking brain, I do know the answer to that question. But that voice is small and faraway, as I have entered the opium den of being spacey and in shock. I am aware of being in that state as I write this. I am writing this because I cannot do anything else. What was I doing right before the text from my brother? Working on edits for my communication book. I cannot focus on that now, which I resent a little because I have these timelines I set. But the gases of spaciness have poisoned the air and my critical thinking brain cannot function well.
One thing I did do: as soon as I read the first line, “brace yourself” I stopped reading, left my desk to sit on the carpeted stairs and pulled the dog onto my lap. I knew I would need him as a body cushion to absorb the coming bad news. Another useful thing is that I understand how I am now in the part of my nervous system where shockiness is the body’s defense against being overwhelmed. So as I float here in a semi-druggy state I thank my body for functioning to protect me. I spoke to a few family members then went for a walk around the neighborhood. I smiled at a teen neighbor washing his car but I did not want to chat. Slowly pulling on a pungent sprig of rosemary in the park, I remembered how all 12 of us siblings held hands at the front of the altar during my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary Mass. That was many years ago. Both parents have since died and I realize our generation steps closer to the door toward death. This is my oldest brother. It is just the beginning of aging and illness and of death eventually taking us all. In the last hour the image that plays over and over in my mind is of hands being separated that were once held fast. That is all I can see. I feel so sad. I know on the roller coaster of good and bad news that the coaster will go back up again. But for now, this is where I am.
POSTSCRIPT: This image of hands slowly separating reminds me of the graphic used by those protesting the current separation of immigrant families in the USA. Those kids were yanked away from their parents and placed in cages for weeks. Stories are emerging that the few children that have been reunited are wary and mistrustful, further breaking the hearts of their mothers. Still I applaud the tireless efforts of lawyers and activist groups fighting for unification. Because families belong together - for the strength and comfort they find in holding each other’s hands on the roller coaster of life.