Words are full – they’re full of meaning, connotation, history, nuance…
They’re also so big sometimes that they stick in the back of your throat and never come out. We say “I’m so sorry” because we don’t have the words to truly voice the chaotic emotions in our heart. The hurt, the sadness, the memories are all balling up and wedging themselves like a plug. We whisper “take care” and what we mean is “stay with me, don’t leave, get better, be like before.”
I’m grateful we live during a time where words like cancer can be spoken out loud. I only wish that the emotions came with an easier vocabulary. But words are only words – limited in definition and size. Their inadequacies feel like our own as we try to emotionally deal with something we spend most of our lives ignoring –mortality.
This past week I found out that a dear friend has terminal cancer. Given a prognosis of less than a year to live, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to feel. I couldn’t imagine what she was going through.
I wanted to say everything and yet my mouth could only vocalize “oh, no”. Words came up but I choked them down, afraid to say the wrong thing. Afraid to hurt her more with my ignorance. Naively, I thought I was more prepared for this kind of news since I have read a lot of books where characters are given a terminal verdict. I found out this week just how unprepared I was and how little I knew.
One thing I definitely found out? It’s far better to say something than nothing at all.
To try as hard as you can to vocalize even one part of what you’re feeling. Will it be enough? Maybe not. Will you think of things later that might have been better? Probably. In fact, in my case, definitely. But opening myself up to that moment gave me the opportunity to bridge the silence and sadness.
In the end, the words are there. They just need the power, our strength, to be spoken.