Therapeutic Bear Hugs

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A couple of days ago, I got together with a friend that I hadn’t seen for over 40 years. While the occasion was a sad one (he had come up to Ohio from his home in Florida for his father’s funeral) it was really wonderful to see him. Of course, when you haven’t seen someone for many years, the first thing is to try to catch up on all that’s happened in each other’s lives. My favorite part is in hearing all about the other person as it gets me out from under my life and I get to imagine what my friend has seen and done and felt. When the focus turned to me (as arriving with a walker or in a wheelchair that the friend wasn’t expecting is bound to do) my tongue seems to trip on my words. After all these years, I still have not figured out how best to respond to the question, “So, what happened to you?”

Not to make light of the pain of those who’ve fallen down a flight of stairs or been in a car wreck, but I wish there was some simple one sentence statement like that I could use to reply to such questions. There are some people who ask “How are you?” that are merely being polite and who really aren’t interested in details. Those are easy. To a friend who really does care, I feel that it’s a matter of respect to tell them the truth. Of course, I also don’t want to come across like a whiner or to depress them or cause them to feel badly for me. And there lies the problem, because the answer to “What Happened to Me” entails a recitation of a long series of illnesses and circumstances that built upon each other over a period of 56 years to land me in the condition I am now. While there is one cause (Hereditary Hemochromatosis “HFE”) that has been at the core of every other major condition or disease or disability that I’ve suffered, most folks have no idea what HFE is but they do know what Epilepsy, Stroke, deafness, Uterine Cancer, Hepatitis C, Non-Alcoholic cirrhosis, Arthritis, Haemolytic Anemia, Osteoporosis, Esophagitis, Peripheral Neuropathy, and chronic pain are. So whether I start with HFE or end with it doesn’t much matter and it doesn’t much matter whether I spend any time at all on the details of any of those conditions and how they’ve affected me or simply just stated their names in a single sentence. The result is still the same. People feel overwhelmed simply hearing that list, can’t imagine how any one person could have endured all that (much less still have a smile on their face) and wonder what kind of hex was put on me while still in the womb. Their reaction is understandable but for some reason I tend to feel a bit embarrassed as I know it has to be difficult to think of “the right thing” to say after someone has answered “What happened to You?” with such a mucked up laundry list.

The best friends I’ve found are those who can hear that list and then go ahead to tell me a joke or can be comfortable laughing at one of mine. People who have such a generous nature as to be sensitive enough to know when to just listen, when to ask for more info, when to laugh with you, when to share with you their own troubles and dreams, and know when you just need a great big bear hug, are priceless. (Thanks, Mark!)

Listen To Simon & Garfunkel’s “Old Friends”

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