I just finished writing an email to my brother Charles' old nanny Jeanni, a delightful Canadian who lived with us for three years. My mother called me up frantically on Friday to tell me that she'd just gotten an email saying that Jeanni has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and is starting chemo on Monday. I was to email her and offer my condolences/support.
What do you say to someone in a case like that? My email ended up being unsatisfactorily short, something along the lines of "blah blah blah was shocked by the news... I know you'll pull through it fine. You've always been a marvel of determination and strength, and you're right, your training in perseverance from rowing will pay off here. (Jeanni was an amazing rower, slated for the Olympics, until she HORRENDOUSLY injured her back. Now she coaches.)
She had mentioned something about needing hats for during chemo, so I asked for her favourite colour and mailing address, but at the same time... I don't know. I feel so inadequate in my response, but I didn't know what to write in the least. The woman lived with my family for three years, and we squabbled like sisters (I think she's only 5 or 6 years older than me) but we've fallen out of touch, and now I don't know what to write to comfort her. I hate situations like this. You just feel so powerless and unable to comfort, because there's not even the proximity, and then there's the whole "should I joke? be irreverent? be sad? scared?" aspect. How precisely to formulate the whole "oh my god you have cancer and I can't help but panic at the thought of this but at the same time obviously you're going to be fine there's no way you can't be fine heh heh who am I to panic, YOU'RE the one who has their cells going crazy" thought pattern in a sane, reassuring fashion? It's far too hard for words.
One of the things that I've always regretted was that the last time I saw my stepuncle Gherardo before he died of lung cancer (more like wasted away, actually... it was still treatable, with a high chance of success, when he was diagnosed, but then he just gave up the will to live, essentially) I was too shocked and scared to approach him for more than a few moments. In the span of a term away at boarding school, he'd gone from a delightfully witty, handsome lawyer who did magic tricks for his nieces and nephews to a shrivelled yellow doll propped up in bed. His skin was tight around his face, and his eyes, formerly always half-closed, were wide open and vastly disproportionate. I couldn't bear to look at him.
There's no real way to end this post-- more maunderings and regrets just come in when I try to stop. Suffice it to say that I hate these situations, that I wish I could DO something, and I wish I could've thought of something better to write Jeanni.