Waiting For the Rat to Die

Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll your tongue over the prospect of bitter confrontation still to come, to savor the last toothsome morsel, both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back — in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you. Frederick Beuchner

Today, I read yet another article by someone who had lost a beloved, raging about the treatment she had received at the hands of her friends and family:

  • “… the worst thing you can do is send milquetoast, meaningless sentiments to people in the trenches”
  • “I had expected vapid statements and foggy optimism from distant social media acquaintances but from someone who had been to our wedding, who had known me for 20-plus years, who was present when our son was born? I gaped at her.”
  • “Feeding false hope and insipid positivity to people grappling with fatal disease is insulting and unhelpful.”
  • Reading about the well wishes people were directing to Senator McCain after his brain cancer diagnosis reminded the author of “the inane and tedious cards and texts” she had received when her husband was terminally ill.

Ouch … Maybe I’m atypical but I didn’t find myself in a rage while Jimmy was being treated for cancer or after he died. Don’t get me wrong — I did get angry if someone behaved badly, but not over anyone’s attempt to show they cared.

I am not religious, but it made me happy to receive a note from Molly’s preschool teacher saying she was praying for Jimmy and our family. When my mom told me that a friend of hers had put Jimmy on her church’s prayer list, I could feel the circle of those who cared about our family expanding.

During the eight years that Jimmy fought to live, he never once asked the obvious question of “why me?” so when I started feeling sorry for myself, resenting other people’s healthy children, thinking about how unfair life is, Jimmy’s equanimity brought me back to a kinder, more contemplative place. Jimmy was the one in the fight, so who was I to have these dark, negative thoughts?

I also learned an important lesson from actor Tyler Perry when he was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air. Perry spoke about how violent and abusive his father had been to his mother until very late in their lives when his father was blinded in an accident. Perry asked his mother whether she was now going to make his father pay for all the terrible treatment she’d received at his hands. His mother said she was not; she was going to take care of Perry’s father because “you should never let anybody make you somebody that you’re not”.

When a loved one is dying, people will say and do things that upset you. But not forgiving that person (even if you don’t forget what he or she did), as Anne Lamott says, “is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die”.

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