This has been a week of bad news. One friend reported that her brother had a massive stroke, will need long-term intensive care and no longer recognizes members of his family. The son of another friend sent an announcement that his father had reached an advanced stage of liver cancer, a surprise to everyone who knew him and, I believe, to him as well. Another friend’s brother was in the hospital, diagnosis as yet undetermined.
As we age, bad news, especially of friends who are ailing, will come more frequently, though I hope not at the rate of two announcements a week. How do we respond when the bad news comes? I’m not talking about what we might do to support our friends and their families, but how do we handle a spate of bad news ourselves. As much as we’d like to deny it, when someone we know is seriously ill, we’re reminded that our own lives are no more permanent than bubbles in a stream.
I can think of only one useful strategy to adopt before the sad news arrives: spend time with friends and family, and enjoy them and our lives while we can. Today I cooked posole for two friends. This dish is made of pork, hominy, chiles, onions and garlic, various spices, garnished with cabbage, cilantro and lime. My friends brought tortillas and a mouth-watering dessert that contained more calories than I’d dare count. We talked and laughed for three hours. The subject of friends who are suffering was part of our conversation, a topic that’s easier to confront when you’re in the company of others.
In his blog zenhabits.net, Leo Babuta says, “When we connect with other humans, we are no longer alone. We share our suffering, our experiences, our common trials. The misery we face is no longer insurmountable when we have someone to face it with us.” That advice is doubly helpful on a rainy winter day in a week of bad news.