It’s been a bit of a stressful week. I got a promotion at work (yay!) and I’m transitioning to my new position next week, so this week has been filled with training my anxious replacement while I anxiously await to be trained myself. It was also punctuated by migraines, fevers and the wretched side-effects of a cleansing program I decided to start (as an aside, I would advise against going cheap on internal cleansing products, unless you enjoy spending the wee hours of the morning keeled over the toilet).
The aforementioned side-effects generated some conversation with a co-worker at lunch today (an inappropriate place to be talking about nausea, but stuff happens). I regaled her with my stories of pain and toilet-hugging, being careful not to ruin her lunch while painting a vivid enough portrait of my 2 a.m. anguish. She related and shared her own stories of monster mushroom allergy attacks and bouts of vertigo. Pain truly brings people together, especially the kind that comes out of nowhere and makes no sense. I realized this, and made a comment that I intended to be in passing: “I think pain is worse when you don’t understand what’s going on inside you, because it makes you more afraid.”
She paused over her enchilada, and then looked up at me kindly. With all the sincerity in the world, she said, “I’m not so sure about that. My cousin was a doctor, and he had leukemia. I was very very close to him and his family; he was like a brother to me. I think it caused him more pain, knowing that he had little chance of survival. He passed away last night.”
Have you ever had a moment of complete inadequacy, when the moment was simply too big, too profound for words, like the Pacific ocean to a life raft? Here I was, going on about my 3-hour stint with projectile vomiting, emphasizing how I even came to work the day after, thinking I was so heroic. All the while, she was listening to me with less than 2 hours of sleep, smiling and relating through all her grief. She didn’t cry. She didn’t even complain about how tired she was. She just listened to me, and then she let me listen to her.
It was all I could do not to cry, apologize and hug her all at the same time. So, like a total idiot, I did none of the above and just listened. I felt at the time like she didn’t want to make a big show of it, and I didn’t want to take away from the dignity with which she carried herself. I told her I would pray for her, and I did. I offered to help or listen if she needed anything. But as I walked out of the lunch room, what I really wanted to say was thank you. Thank you for reminding me that no matter how tempting it is to feel sorry for myself, there is always someone beside me (in this case, quite literally beside me) who has greater need. Thank you for allowing me to be a listening ear, even though your grief is beyond my comprehension. Thank you for trusting me with your pain, even though I could barely handle my own.
She might never hear me say any of this. It makes for an awkward work relationship. However, if any of you are going through a great pain, a deep struggle, I would encourage you to be brave and face it, share it with someone you feel you can trust. If they’re anything like me, they might get blind-sided at first, but they will become stronger for it. And if you never hear them say it, I will say it on their behalf: thank you.