A friend is going through a grueling time with an ailment that required emergency surgery followed by more surgery.
She apologized for “whining” so much on Facebook about the miserable funk she’s in, attributing her “epic whine” to her brain being warped by morphine.
“I never wanted to be an old lady complaining about her ailments,” she said.
I gently chided her for this, noting that what she dismissed as “whining” is not whining.
Rather than trying to grit her teeth and suffer in silence, she could have done what we all can do when suffering pain and grief of any kind:
Call Grief Busters!
That is, call on your friends and loved ones and let them know you are hurting.
Without actually asking for support, she signaled to Facebook friends who love her and care about her that she needed their help.
But all she had to do was ask.
Other friends gently chided her as well, assuring her that she had nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to apologize for–and good for them! She’s blessed to have such friends.
But this is a typical mindset of caring, giving, unselfish and compassionate people–and my friend is all that and then some. They will be there for you in your time of trouble with their thoughts and prayers and words of support, if not their presence. Just as you will be there for them.
Yet when they’re laid low by illness or injury or depression and grief, they don’t want to trouble anybody. They don’t want to be Wendy Whiner.
My advice as a pastoral-care minister has always been this: when you need help and support, ask, and you shall receive. Knock, and friends and loved ones will open their doors (hearts) wide open to you–just as you would open your door (heart) to them.
That’s not being a whiner. That’s healthy living.
That’s not being selfish. That’s taking care of yourself. That’s loving yourself as much as you love God and others.
You can file this advice under the category of that old folk wisdom that goes:
“What are friends for?”
If you’re on fire, you’ll going to call 911 for help, right?
You’re going to trigger the siren.
If you’re feeling like you’re on fire, you don’t suffer in silence, not wanting to trouble everybody or come off as a whiner about your woes. No, you sound the alarm, call for help, raise the SOS flag outside your house.
You’re suffering from grief, and a wise old hospital chaplain once shared a wonderful German proverb with me:
“A grief shared is a grief halved.”
The grief wrought by illness–or grief wrought by everything from marital discord to the teenager in your house who’s had his or her brain kidnapped by aliens–finds relief only through the Friendship and Family Sharing Channel.
Maybe there should be such a TV cable channel devoted to the dynamics of grief and how to process it in healthy ways. God knows we have enough access to mindless Foodie Channels in the TV wasteland, with adults and children alike competing in constant cupcake contests.
I went through an especially hard time last year dealing with a Belizean family that tested (and continues sometimes to test) my faith and patience to no end. They are wonderful people, as Belizeans are all in all. I love this family and care about them all, and they are good to me 98 percent of the time.
But they are also uneducated, poor, and so dysfunctional as to be prone to fits of irrational anger and potential violence when things go terribly wrong in their lives.
One day last year they turned their pain and grief over the death of their 54-year-old mother on me, in the form of blind rage and potential violence.
Folks who grow up in ignorance and poverty aren’t typically sophisticated at processing pain and grief in healthy, rational ways.* (See endnote.)
I had to take this family to court and get a protection order. For a while, I was scared of them. Some of them drink. A lot. And many are the killings in Central America and the Caribbean that involve drunkenness and machetes. You only have to read newspapers down here one day to learn this for yourself. Tourists here in “Paradise” pick up papers and go “What? A brother hacked his sister to death with a machete last night?”
Violence is pain and depression turned inward and expressed outward and poverty breeds pain and depression, among other nasty ills.
The only thing that defused my situation was my going to court as a way of showing this family I was serious about putting a couple of them in jail if they didn’t calm down, stop harassing me, and sit down with me and talk things through, which they did.**
But when things were scary and I was feeling like a stranger lost in a lost land (as much as I love Belize and her people I still have those days after five years), I went on Facebook and announced to my friends and loved ones something along the line of this:
“My friends and loved ones, I’m really in distress this morning and need your prayers and support.”
And with that, I summarized the scary situation I was in, sharing up-front the fact that I was feeling lonely and isolated.
That’s to say that I shared exactly what I was feeling with friends and loved ones.
I stood my ground with the family and we worked things through and I dropped the protection order. But I had to lay down “New Rules for Getting Along With Mr. Paul.”
Sharing my fear and grief with loved ones back in my beloved American homeland, in a pressure-packed situation, was a relief. This liberating relief came from the flood of responses from folks who responded to my pleas for prayer and support–they came through because I asked them to come through for me, because I think they know I’ll come through for them, and have for many of them and will.
“What are friends for?”
But I repeat myself.
Social media, to which I’m undeniably addicted (three days and withdrawals set in)** is shot-through with crap and downsides aplenty.
But so is every communication tool. Television is so entertaining, educational, informative and oh Lord so wonderful and great. TV is one of the best things ever created. We’ve all been addicted to it from childhood, except for the oldest of old timers among us who grew up before it.
Of course, television is also so awful that a sociologist famously dismissed it way back in the 1950s as “a vast wasteland.” It’s awash now in more waste than ever. (Cupcake contests??? Seriously?)
Yet as with TV, I’ll take Facebook’s downsides with the wonderful upsides.
One of the upsides of Facebook, even for the occasional drop-in social media user, is that it’s a wonderful way to speed-dial Grief Busters when you need help and moral support and prayers and encouragement and the assurance that people love you and care about you.
Friends and operators are always standing by to take your call.
* Of course, I’m often astounded at how unsophisticated educated and well-to-do people are in processing grief in healthy ways, preferring to get pissed off at family rather than acknowledge the pain of sorrow. But that’s another story for another day.
**My first-born daughter gave up Facebook for Lent and is alive and well and reports she doesn’t miss it. My youngest born daughter got off Facebook altogether. She grew up on Facebook. She quit cold-turkey. My only son has never been much on Facebook. Gee, what is wrong with these young people today?