Twinkies & Ho-Hos
Previously, we were graciously blessed to have a woman describe how she discovered and subsequently was diagnosed with MS at age 27.*
I was captivated reading her story about how a life full of struggle has yielded so much strength and beauty. And there was one particular paragraph wherein I could immediately identify myself. When Shauna* asked why people responded to this woman's MS diagnosis in seemingly ignorant and callous ways, she says,
I get it. It’s hard to see people hurting. And it’s hard to not have something to offer. You feel dumb. But all I really wanted was for people to say, “I am walking alongside you.” I didn’t need people to tell me to be thankful for what I had and thankful for it not being something more life-threatening. I’ve learned that it is really hard for all of us to just be quiet, to listen, or to simply respond to the people we see going through pain with a heartfelt, “I’m sorry…this sucks!”
That’s me. It’s a struggle for me to see people hurting. I feel like a burden if I don’thave something to offer. Saying, “I’m sorry for your loss” just doesn’t feel like enough. And yet, I believe her. I believe she has put words to what many can’t or don’t know to say. Be quiet. Just listen. Bring your heart, not your words.
And I’d like to add, if you pass a grocery story on the way, bring Twinkies too.
While I have notoriously used too many words in the face of loss, I can attest that one time, I did bring my heart…and a box of Twinkies. When I was a very young adult, a dear friend of mine lost a family member. It was the first time in my life that I had to watch a friend suffer the agonizing pain of loss. I knew nothing other than I wanted to be near her and with her and offer comfort. However, I’d learned by then that my words would not bring comfort. But I thought, “What would bring comfort to me if I were suffering?” And then it came to me: Twinkies!!! I don’t know why I thought a yellow, capsule-shaped squishy pound cake stuffed with cream filling would be comforting, but I followed my heart and brought over a whole box.
Looking back, my heart was telling me to grab the box of Twinkies because if you’re eating Twinkies, you can’t talk. I didn’t want to be a burden, I wanted to be a support. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing, but I didn’t want to be absent, either. Of course I couldn’t lessen the pain of loss by showing up with something as ludicrous as a trans-fattened, high-fructose corn syrupped, poly-sorbated chemical compound, but at least I couldn’t make things worse if I just ate and didn’t say the wrong thing.
Turns out, the Twinkies were for me. My quiet presence in her home and by her side was an attempt to share the burden of my friend. But I don’t think I could have had one without the other. So, we do what it takes to offer the care, compassion and kindness someone enduring pain needs. Margot reminded us, it’s our hearts they need, not our words. And if Twinkies don’t help, try Ho Hos.
*Many of these blog posts were originally featured on a project called "3 Therapists Walk Into a Blog," a collaboration between myself, Shauna Gauthier, and Sarah Isakson.