Hi, Carolyn: One of my kids is facing a life-threatening illness and surgery and if — a big if — everything goes perfectly, their recovery is going to be months long and arduous and the underlying health issues will be lifelong.
I am having trouble with my friends' avoiding asking me about it. I see people who are in full awareness of the situation and they brightly ask how my summer is going.
Why do people do this? It's not as though my mind can be kept off it. I try to be generous around other people's awkwardness, but as crucial dates approach, I actually need the people in my life to not pretend nothing is happening. Am I hoping for too much?
Hoping: I’m sorry about your situation — it must be terrifying and all-consuming.
I don’t want to say you’re hoping for too much, but not because what you’re asking for is reasonable. (It is, by the way.) I just don’t want to encourage framing this in terms of hope at all, because the too-much/too-little/just-right business — even hope in general — is so slippery that it will only become a distraction.
Plus, the awkwardness you describe could have different sources. One person might be avoiding the topic out of cowardice, and another might be making a thoughtful attempt to give you room and follow your lead.
So, I suggest you become all business about this: 1. What do you need? 2. In what form would you like to receive it? 3. Whom can you ask for it explicitly?
Let’s say Friend X is levelheaded and a good listener. You can choose X to be the person you tell exactly what you need. X may not even be your best friend, but the best for the job — it’s not unusual for someone surprising to come through in a crisis (and even recede again, naturally, when it’s over).
If you need more than X can give you, then ask X to be your spokesfriend with other friends as you enter this difficult time. Be specific. If you think you’ve already been specific, then be more so.
If X says no, then give props for honesty and move on to your friend Y. Or talk to X and Y together, or include Z too.
See what I mean, though? Put the effort into this one clear push, where you articulate your position and choose your people.
After that, I still would caution against hope, and advise sticking to business. “I’m dealing with _____ and wondering if you could help me with _____.” People are sooo much better when they know what to do.
And when the s--- fairy finally leaves you alone and moves on to someone else, which it will someday, then you can be helpful in the same ways to them.
That’s one of the many eye-openers that a crisis brings: For many people, at least, it takes one to know one — and to have any idea what caring bystanders can do.