Wednesday, November 7, 2012

simple words

Simple words: When news got out about my husband's impending incarceration, we received a letter that began, "I'm so sorry to hear of your husband's troubles." The letter went on to say "I can't imagine what this has been like for your family," and "We will keep all of you in our prayers."  I cried.

Simple words: Another friend, when she saw my husband and me at church, said, "How are you two doing?" I said we were fine and I said the weather today was beautiful, wasn't it? If I could have said more I would have, but the note of concern in her voice overwhelmed me. 

Simple words: When I picked up my son from a sleepover, I told the host parents the story. They listened quietly and the husband asked, "How is your husband doing?" I could have kissed that man, I was so grateful that he thought to ask about my husband. So many ask about the kids or about me but they don't ask about my husband. It isn't that they don't care, it is that they don't know what to ask. Most people have no idea what it must feel like and when they try to imagine the prospect of four years away from family, their imagination fails.

My advice is to treat this as if it is an illness in the family. Thinking of it that way makes it a bit easier to decide what to say. When someone has cancer, we are aware that the well spouse is carrying a larger load and we are aware that cancer is a frightening illness. We recognize both when we say to the couple--one frazzled, the other bald, "How are you two doing?" 

When someone is sick, we ask about them. Sometimes we don't know what to ask--is she in the middle of chemo or radiation this week? or was that last month?--so we ask the simple question, "How is she doing?" The question provides an opportunity to talk about the sick spouse and an equal opportunity to slide away from the real answer. The two opportunities are equally appreciated.

Sometimes I feel like talking and sometimes talking is too complicated. The story changes. One day, the story is full of hope: We can do this; we can get through these bad years and come out of it whole. Another day, the story is about worry and terror and confusion. One day, I am angry with him because I don't know where he filed the document I need; another day, I am shattered because I overheard cruel gossip. On any one of those days, I like knowing that someone remembers that I love my husband, that I worry about him, and that the kids miss him.

Compassion is the simple recognition that someone is suffering and the desire to lessen the suffering. A man going to prison is as deserving of compassion as a man with heart disease or a man with a broken hip. Showing compassion is not the same as saying, "Your crime was no big deal" or "We don't care that you committed a crime." We don't hear kind words from you and think you approve of the crime, so go ahead and let us hear kind words.