The Words I Wish I Had Heard When I Became Ill


Last year I lost my career to the much misunderstood illness, chronic fatigue syndrome. I was unable to get out of bed for three months. It took another six months to leave the house. While there was no shortage of well-meaning advice, I still felt alone and misunderstood, longing for someone to say something truly helpful. Finally, during Martha Beck’s writing course, “Write into Light,” I wrote the words I wish I had heard. Maybe, in the end, all we really need is for someone to be with us exactly as we are:

I am here.

I know you cannot believe what has happened. You didn’t deserve this.

Some people will tell you bad things happen to good people, that no one escapes the suffering. Others will tell you it is all an illusion, some cosmic game designed to wake you up and enlighten you. Right now, you feel that both perspectives are a crock of shit. Neither helps you in this moment, when the pain is so bad it affects your breathing, when you feel that you can’t go on.

I’ll be honest, I wanted to tell you that there is nothing wrong, that at some soul level, everything is unfolding as it must, that some part of you chose this. That is what I was going to say to you today, but the words stuck in my throat.

So, instead, I will hold your hand. I will make you tea. I will stroke your hair as you cry. I will listen to you as you tell me how life is for you right now.

I will not make you wrong for feeling as you feel. I will not try to impose my view of reality onto what I cannot know to be true for you.

I will not leave you alone in your pain. I will not present myself to you as someone who knows anything better than you. You are the authority on your own life. I am done with platitudes and promises of future bliss.

This is where life is happening, here I am in the pain, the snot and the disappointments. The broken heart is real, the pain in the body hurts, the grief of losing what you love tears you in two. I will not minimize this.

Can I just sit with you? Can I just love you exactly as you are?

That is all I have to offer you today.

Two people holding hands.

I cannot fix anything for you, it is not mine to fix. All my words are meaningless now. Perhaps, in your own time, you will find your own words, your own path. Perhaps, not. How could I know?

Today, this is my path: to be with you as you face this unexpected horror that has left you bereft. The only thing I know for sure is that I will no longer reject this moment, no matter what is arising. I will not reject your experience or mine. I will not overlay this present reality with words of encouragement, no matter how well intentioned. I will not tell you how to feel, how to live, how to heal.

I looked into my heart today, for the wisest words I could give to you.

All I found was “I am here.”

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