Paint The Garage

Yesterday’s post sparked a number of spirited comments on Facebook, but none was more perfectly timed than one mentioning this article from The Guardian by Stephen W. Thrasher.

It has been two years since Thrasher’s sister died of a rare sarcoma she had for 15 years. He addresses exactly my problem with Joan Lunden’s comments – pseudoscience and magical thinking isn’t just harmless, well-intentioned idiocy. In fact, he argues, it is a three-pronged act of violence:Snake oil old bottle

  1. It’s condescending
  2. It’s not helpful. I learned from this article that George Carlin made this sort of thing part of his act. People say things just to say something. If you really want to help someone, come on over and unclog the toilet or paint the garage.
  3. It blames the person for their condition by shifting the onus back onto them.

Without a doubt, this all is based on a person’s discomfort with mortality.

Once my cancer diagnosis was public, some people tried to engage me in conversations like those found in the movie Terms of Endearment. The silly thing is that even if my death had been eminent, I wouldn’t be interested in lame attempts to chase the myth of closure.

Then there were the people who ghosted because they couldn’t handle the possible worst case scenario.

All of it, every strange reaction – from people recommending the herbal tea that would blow out “big pharma” to those who disappear for not knowing what to say – every stilted, uncomfortable conversation comes from the same selfish and cowardly place. That place has nothing to do with me like it had nothing to do with Thrasher’s sister.

It’s other people’s fear of mortality; their unwillingness to accept the ugly, unpredictability of life.

Just because I understand it doesn’t mean I excuse it. And it doesn’t mean it understood it at the time.

So what’s a sincere but unsure person to do?

The best advice I’ve ever read comes at the end of this article:

Trust yourself to love them in the condition they’re in…it can be the most powerful, quiet and loving gift you can give each other.

6 thoughts on “Paint The Garage”

  1. “It is a three-pronged act of violence.”

    Laughingly consistent with contemporary ‘micro-aggression’ culture.

    1. To dismiss this as a part of some aspect of culture that you dislike is your perogative, of course, but to people (like the author of the Guardian piece) it’s far from “laughable.”

      I’d like to think that anyone reading this would be interested in helping folks in a similar situation as this writer’s sister. I would think if you want to actually be helpful, you’d want to avoid making comments that the other person finds hurtful. If you just want to go in, guns a-blazing, thinking you know what’s best for that person better than he or she does, then everyone would probably better off if you ghosted.

      If you’ve been around this subset of folks as long as I have, you’ll know that this writer isn’t alone. Here’s one example that came to my head immediately, from my friend Rachel’s widow.

      I’ll never understand why people want to offer “help” that isn’t wanted, or why they get defensive when their assumptions are challenged.

      1. If advice is not wanted, then why not tell that person so? If you find another person’s words objectionable, then why let them in and dwell on them? Why not dismiss them and walk away. Why choose to let it irritate you?

        Moreover, why fire back in the other direction with discourse that the original sender might find hurtful? When you do so, aren’t you engaging in precisely the behavior that you purport to dislike?

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