I joined a group of American and Canadian women motorcyclists who decorated their bikes in pink swag and raised money for breast cancer, because I was looking for a good cause. Little did I know that driving a pink-decorated motorcycle would encourage those touched by cancer to share their experiences as I stopped for fuel, food and scenery, changing my life forever. This is why I am sometimes called “the accidental cancer advocate.”
During my path through Texas, a friend of mine held a cancer fundraiser at a church that caters to the spiritual needs of bikers. I was surprised to meet a young couple there who didn’t ride motorcycles. They told me they turned out because they had lost their young daughter to cancer the year before, and they wanted thank me for my work raising money and awareness for the scourge that took their little girl.
Keeping a loved one alive
It often seems to me that those left behind are keeping their loved one alive when they bring them into a conversation. A stranger like me is a fresh audience for their recollections, where friends and coworkers might tire of the same stories over time. I’ve found that I can offer a great service by simply bearing witness to their love and memories. This includes the elderly, who seem to keep themselves going by repeating the stories of their lives. If you listen to the podcast (above), you’ll hear how my children and their friends are introducing me to their new families (ouch!).
Note: I’m not claiming to be a good listener. Maybe that’s why Providence has seen fit to give me so many chances to practice.
What to say when you’re at a loss for words
A friend who lost his wife to cancer told me that he knows people are afraid to reach out to him because they fear they’ll say the wrong thing. He advised me to tell everyone to ignore that fear. He says you could just start by saying, “I’m calling to tell you you’re in my heart and mind,” and see where the conversation goes. Let the other person bring up the grief if it suits them to do so.
Don’t place a burden on yourself to be a grief counselor, just a good listener. This applies equally to people in bereavement and those who’ve lost a job or had an unwanted piece of news.
Every day brings an opportunity to be a listener; to bear witness. As Alfred Brendel says, “The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.”