Each week, part of my chaplaincy training is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Here’s week number sixteen. Some identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.
Frankie was in his mid-thirties and just discovered he had brain cancer. The bad kind. As if there’s any other.
Frankie’s mother and sister were in the room. They were sure he could beat this: but can you really be sure?
The man was covered in tattoos and had a smile the size of Texas; his speech was slurred from the pain meds but he was cracking jokes in that quiet room. He was genuinely funny. I couldn’t believe how funny he was even with all the tubes sticking out of him and half his head shaved from the biopsy and his tongue made of mush. He wanted to yank out those tubes and get back to work. I wanted to help him.
They kept talking about the future like it was a sure thing. “I’ll be fine,” Frankie said, and his sister and mom: “He’s tough, he’ll be okay.” Part of my Chaplaincy Radar was sure that this was a bad idea, because cancer is an unpredictable monster, and I wanted them to confront the grief with honesty. But the other part of me wanted to feed the hope. Keep with the jokes, you know, keep it light and easy, and I’ll bring the pom-poms.
These are the harder visits, when no one wants to talk about the thing they’re going through. I know that positive energy is a good thing, and we need affirmation and good vibes for good health: but this sort of suppression is like covering a pot of boiling water with your hands, and the more you try to cover it, the more it burns you up and the more likely you’ll explode all over the kitchen.