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#11: Silence

"How is your mother doing?"

Fine, thank you for asking. And how is your cancer? The cold sore on your lip? The guy you're cheating on your husband with? The twenty pounds you've gained since the last time I saw you?

When asked about my mother the response is the same: her condition is worsening but her spirits are high. We're taking it one day at a time. We're thankful for what she can still do.

When asking my mother her response is the same: I'm doing fine today honey. Then she changes the subject. For decades I longed for some admission of struggle, some insight into pain. I needed to know what she was going through, I deserved to know the intimate details of her life with M.S. I was her daughter after all. That she refused to talk about it with me seemed selfish and rude.

Only it wasn't. Her refusal to speak was a survival mechanism. She would rather spend what limited energy she had left discussing things she enjoyed. Why couldn't I just allow her that? And wasn’t that how I addressed anyone who asked me the same thing?

In later years, I learned to not ask how she's doing. I asked instead what she was doing, and what I could do to help. And when people asked after my mother I told them to visit. Go see her, I said to them. She'd love to see you, you know?

It is up to you who you wish to share your struggles with and who you don't. Don't get me wrong, when things are especially rough you should talk to someone. It is not healthy to keep everything buttoned up. But you are in no way obligated to talk to everyone. People differ greatly in how they deal with pain and trauma, grief and loss. Stay close to those you trust, and forget everyone else. It is not their right to know, nor yours to tell them.

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