That interpersonal currency is called intimacy; the ability to push on with dialog, transparency, and reciprocity in spite of an assortment of uncomfortable feelings that might come up in the process of interacting with illness or even the imminent threat of death. We all share a piece of this space.
A 37th birthday
This morning I received mail from a woman in the midst of a fight for her husband's life. He is diagnosed with stage IV kidney cancer and is in a very challenging place. He is not yet 40, she will be 37 this weekend. They have a 10-year-old with high-functioning autism and another child, just 3 years old. She is an advocate for special education and is extremely gifted.
As I read her story, it struck me that I am completely powerless to "understand what she's going through" and, yet, I (like most people) simultaneously wished to ease her burden. This is a sweet spot for interoperable interpersonal stuff, aka "intimacy."
So, when she told me that it was her birthday on Sunday, I went back and forth with whether-how-if I should reach out with an offer to bake her a cake:
"She's going to think that I am off if I offer a cake in the middle of this crisis," I thought. Then, I reasoned, "Someone else closer to her has already offered a cake, so don't bother even asking." Finally, I imagined, "Offering a cake is so trite, so meaningless in the face of this kind of situation." Each of these arguments revealed that I was uncomfortable getting closer to the situation; I was scared of being overwhelmed; sucked into a conjured-up messy sick place. I know you get that.
Offering nothing was not an option so I wrote and re-wrote until I just typed out this very short note:
Her name,A complicated simple
I can feel your kick-ass courage; keep on doing what you are doing. This is a tough case and you are doing an amazing job.
Can I bring you and the kids something simple and delicious to eat on Sunday, for your birthday? Maybe a simple dinner with cake for dessert? Heck, I'll even stay to eat and clean up if you want the company.
It may seem like a simple message, but I tolerated a great deal of internal dialog to feel like I got it right and didn't patronize her. Remember, when we are on the outside of a healing crisis, we aren't driving the dialog; the other side is. We have to realize a certain loss of authority and control. I hit send.
Her reply (double-checks the sincerity of my offer to bake her a cake)
Christine,I was delighted! I quickly wrote back:
... Would you like to drop off a small cake for Sunday? ...
I would love to drop off a cake. How do you and the kids like white cake w/ chocolate frosting?She fired back
Dear Christine,Intimacy confirmed
White with chocolate frosting sounds very yummy. Thanks so much,
She used the word, "yummy." How unexpected.
This intimate exchange reminded me that the more we can be authentic and offer our own goodness from that uncomfortable but compassionate place, the more room we give the so-called "patient" to do what feels right for him or her.
It may be a bit sticky or awkward, but sometimes it can be quite "yummy" too.
People, not patients
Shopping for health insurance
Are we betting on the "me" in medicine?
If e-health was simple...