This week I heard an interview of Susan Spencer-Wendel, the author of “Until I Say Goodbye”. You can listen to it here:
Susan was diagnosed with ALS when she was 44 and its course has ravaged her ability to speak clearly so her husband, John, served as a translator for her garbled speech. His love for his wife was reflected in his voice and in his commitment to her in spite of the tragedy and challenge of her fatal illness. I was impressed.
One thing that struck me was a point at which the interviewer turned to John and asked him how this journey had been for him. John’s first two sentences were: "Every day I wake up, and I feel sad. That's my first emotion." The honest, frank statement of the daily, inevitable sadness that accompanies such losses was bright in its honesty and clarity. I deeply appreciated that.
His next sent sentence, after a pause, was "And then I roll over, and I look at Susan, and I realize that she's not allowing herself to feel that way, so I can't, and I don't."
I live in a world where we generally skip over our sorrows or breeze over the sorrows of others in our conversation. But we miss out when we do. John’s third sentence was powerful, not because of its commitment to maintaining a positive attitude, because of the clarity of first two in expressing his human response to tragedy.
Today I listened to a brother speak at church about a visit to a widow that he had undertaken. In the course of the conversation he asked how she was doing since the death of her husband a year previously, expecting a nice phrase about how she was managing. Instead she looked him straight in the eye and said, “My heart hurts.” He said that he then began to speak to her about the healing power of the atonement but she interrupted him. “Do you think I don’t know about the atonement of Christ?” she asked. “If it weren’t for the atonement of Christ I’d be dead right now,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to bear my sorrow without that power in my life right now.”
We glide over sorrows, pat them with platitudes, explain how to manage them, or don’t articulate them because we don’t want to seem whiney or difficult or because they are awkward in conversation. But speaking honestly and succinctly about them and the struggle to respond to them with courage, and listening open-heartedly to them is powerful communication. Today I appreciate that.
I have failed at that more times that I wish I had. I hope to learn from this and do better.