We went to the beach today. I was with my kids in the water when I heard a familiar voice asking my husband a question about our beach tent.
I turned and looked and didn’t immediately recognize the woman. But I did notice her perfect bald head hidden by a large sunhat. It took me a minute, but then I knew who it was.
I called to her by name and we chatted for awhile about our kids and our summer plans. I did not acknowledge what was clearly going on with her. As I was talking with her I thought about it… Do I bring up what is going on?…If so, how do I bring it up?…She seems to be enjoying having a “normal conversation”, maybe she is tired of talking about cancer?…Maybe she is wanting to enjoy feeling “normal” for a second?…. I can definitely relate to that. I decided to wait until her kids swam away. They didn’t.
We eventually said our goodbyes and started packing up to leave the beach. But I had this gnawing feeling…. I needed to talk with her again. How could I leave pretending like everything was “fine” when it was clear that things weren’t fine for her.
By now her kids had swam away. I walked back towards her and I just told her that I didn’t know what was going on with her, and I shared that I was a cancer survivor (which by the way I NEVER talk about other than here) and to be honest, I don’t really remember what else I said because I became overwhelmed watching the tears roll down her cheeks. And she said, “Thank you for acknowledging me”.
I was grateful that my sunglasses were covering my eyes which had now welled up with tears.
She had said thank you for acknowledging me….. So other people hadn’t? Other people had maybe had a similar small talk conversation with her but hadn’t wanted to go deeper? Hadn’t wanted to acknowledge that she was clearly going through something? Hadn’t wanted to get a bit messy?
I do get it. I understand the avoidance. It is similar to when you learn that someone has lost a loved one and you don’t quite know what to say… I have friends who ask about my son all of the time and there are also people in my life who don’t, who have never asked. They don’t want to get messy.
I needed to be sensitive to the fact that her children were nearby. I didn’t know if she would want to share what was going on or not, but at least I gave her the opportunity. She did not share much with me. But what I learned was that she just wanted to be recognized, to be seen and to be acknowledged. That seemed to truly mean something to her.
Isn’t that what we all want?
I have felt that before. I have wanted to be seen. I have wanted to be seen beyond a bald head to stare at (and to perhaps feel sorry for from afar) but as a person who is going through something. My struggle with Oscar is different as I don’t show any physical signs. It is all internal.
We have amazing friends and family near and far who were there for us, who checked in and who continue to check in. I am also equally aware of the “friends” who didn’t. The good time friends. The friends who were there when times were good and who have had difficulty acknowledging when times were tough.
Acknowledgement is so simple. Like kindness it costs nothing, but can mean so much.