How to Respond to a Friend’s Bad News by Liz Charlotte Grant

Joel penner

  1. When I casually mention that a cloud has appeared in my vision, do not call me a hypochondriac, even if it’s what you really think. Demand that I call an optometrist. Then offer to drive me home from the appointment where I get the bad news. And bring donuts.
  2. Offer to babysit my preschoolers so I can hold my husband’s hand in the specialist’s office. Cry when we arrive home in tears with a rare diagnosis. Enthusiastically examine the alien photographs of my eyeball, studying the red spheres captured in high-resolution as if they were your own, without cringing.
  3. Furrow your brow. Tell me, “I’m so sorry.” And when I tell you the doctor said the cloud in my vision is not cancer, don’t tell me that it’s great news. Just say, “That sucks.” Of course, a noncancerous organ is great news. Of course, I am grateful that you asked God that whatever I have, please don’t let it be cancer. Of course, I need your prayers, every one of them, even the misguided ones. But understand: the doctors who specialize in retinas were stumped by my particular retina, which appears to be, at this moment, deteriorating because of a rare disease without a cure. Don’t mind me for not wanting to throw a party over an ambiguous diagnosis.
  4. Invite us over to watch the Superbowl. Scrub my kid’s puke off of your own floors, even though he probably just passed the flu to you and your children. Hand my husband a set of your own clothes, freshly washed, to replace the ones that smell of a roller rink carpet. Tell us it’s not a big deal.
  5. Let me call you during your kids’ naptimes to tell you that I’m certain I have a brain tumor. Tell me that you love me, and then tell me the truth: I’m catastrophizing. There’s no tumor. Have I felt anxious lately? Maybe I should get a prescription. Then, tell me your war stories, all the ways anxiety has derailed your life, so I can feel a bit less crazy.
  6. Hug me. Stop talking. Do not tell me that you understand exactly what I’m going through just because you have occasional foggy vision that you cannot explain—or because you know someone with an issue like mine, and have I tried essential oils? It won’t work; I won’t try it; it’s not the same. Cook me a feast, and send me home with a Tupperware full of leftovers.
  7. Remind me to breathe when the fear presses on my chest: inhale, exhale; in, out; in, out. Repeat.
  8. Tell me the good news of your life while grinning. When you share moments of joy with me, I will feel a match strike inside me. I will remember that I have also prayed for these moments: for new jobs, new babies, twenty dollar bills found in jacket pockets and a seat offered on the bus, the big and small that make life on our spinning globe worth it—worth the pain and blood and fear—because it’s a miracle that we’re here at all, even though none of us get out of here alive. And in that moment, as I watch you grin in front of me, shining, I will no longer feel lonely. Your news will turn out to be exactly what I need to survive the next five minutes. “I’m okay,” I will tell you when you ask, and for once, I’ll mean it.
Meet the Contributor
Liz Charlotte Grant writes essays about science, faith, psychology, and the arts from her home in Denver, Colorado, where she lives with her artist husband and their two wild kiddos. She was awarded a residency from the Collegeville Institute in 2019 and has published her work at the Curator Magazine, Defenestration Magazine, Fathom Mag, Dappled Things, and Geez Magazine, among others. Currently, she is editing her first book, a memoir about losing vision in one eye and reckoning with the healing power of God (represented by MacGregor & Luedeke). Follow her at LizCharlotteGrant.com and on Instagram @LizCharlotteGrant.

STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Joel Penner

 

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