the catch

Something that will stick with me....

Today I made a phone call that I thought would "help" someone. A family in a neighboring ward, who lived a block away from us for a time and were one of the first families we met when we moved here, found out last year that their youngest son has an inoperable brain tumor. The past year has been full of ups and downs, sorrows and miracles, as this family has watched their little boy's condition both deteriorate and improve, both by great strides and by the narrowest of margins. The past few weeks have been especially hard, as it seemed that the end may have been near, only to have his symptoms decrease as he entered yet one more period of limbo, his family watching and waiting for whatever will happen next. Throughout this time, we (DH and I) struggle with the desire to help in some way, but are at a loss - we are no longer in the same ward, we don't have as close of contact with the family, none of our abilities seem to be in the realm of what would be useful to them, etc.

This boy's older sister is one of my piano students, and a very enjoyable one at that. I love her personality; it is as unique as her bright red hair is in a sea of blond- and brown-haired kids. She has been a no-show for her last few lessons - understandably, as her family life must adjust constantly to each change in her brother's condition. I decided to call her mother today to let her know that taking a break from piano for awhile would be fine, that she wouldn't have to worry (as if piano lessons were the utmost of her concerns right now) and that she could call whenever she wanted to start up again. In just this smallest of offerings, I thought this would be one way I could "help". I had my words all carefully chosen before I called, and dialed dutifully, only to be greeted with a harried "hello?" on the other end from my student's mother. My composure fell away as I stumbled out some words which I hoped conveyed what I was calling about in a compassionate way, something about "if you want to take a break for awhile, that's okay with me". What I heard next was a brisk, short compliance, obviously in response to ill timing of a phone call, but the part that stood out was the catch in her voice as she said, "Yes, that's fine. Bye." That catch is a sound I cannot get out of my head tonight and probably never will.



beckbot said...

I so understand what you felt at that moment. It's so incredibly hard to know what to do/say when someone is dying. What CAN one say? They are saying goodbye for a long, long time.

I had a few missteps with Brita, I think. I eventually found myself just sending an (emotional, usually) email offering all kinds of things and just waiting for her to take me up on it. And sometimes she did. I think it's incredible that anyone can be at all gracious during such a time. Speaking for myself, I would be tempted to withdraw or lash out to the point of burning all bridges.

Jeff said...

Having been in situations where you don't know how your efforts to help will be received, I always err on the side of caution. Dealing with inevitable mortality of a loved one changes your whole perspective on life, with a mixed range of emotions thrown in. When you are on the "inside" of pain nobody can understand you because you are on the inside of the box and they are on the outside looking through a cloudy glass box. If your intentions to lend compassion are clearly evident, whether or not it was awkward at that particularly will become very minimal once it's looked back on. It's always helped me to remember that life is a test and its a precious one for which we have forgotten that we eagerly signed up. In then end I think she will be grateful for the gesture, even if she's currently distracted.