A patient was telling me that the physical therapist wanted him to do an exercise in which he would put one foot directly in front of the other. This exercise was supposed to help him strengthen his balance. He said he couldn’t do this exercise. He said, “I’m bow legged. I just can’t do that. If I had to do a field sobriety test I would fail even if I hadn’t had a drink.” As he laughed about his being bow legged he suddenly turned serious. He said, ” My brother was in a car accident as a teenager and was thrown from the car and ended up with a serious head injury.” As he thought about his brother’s accident he began to cry and he said, “He has never been the same since.”
As he sat there crying his wife said, “Your brother has done well in spite of his head injury. He has used his situation to help others who have experienced the same thing he did.”
I said, “Thanks for telling me about your brother and sharing your grief with me.”
He went on to say, “I don’t know why I’ve been thinking about him lately but I have been thinking about him a lot and I’ve been crying a lot.”
Since that visit I’ve been thinking about a couple of things that may help all of us when we are with people who are hurting and grieving. One thing is that you never know what is going to trigger a deeper response in a conversation. The most ordinary conversation can take a turn into something much deeper as the bow legged story lead to the sobriety story and that led to the brother’s car accident. So be surprised when this happens but also be ready to move into the grief when it appears. This leads to thinking about our response to someone’s grief. This man’s wife tried to move away from his grief. She didn’t think it was good for him to cry and grieve so she put a positive spin on his brother’s tragedy to make him feel better. I wanted this man to stay with his grief to see what else he might see in that place in his heart.
I know that this man is in a very precarious situation. He has failed all the treatments that have been tried on him so far. The current treatment is kind of his last best hope to get into remission. As he thinks about how fragile and precarious life has been for his brother he may well be thinking how he is now in the same boat and needs time to grieve and think about what if my life is coming to its end?
So the door has been left open for the two of us. We shared something very intimate and difficult which now means as we talk again he may want to talk more about his own hopes and fears and questions about his future.
So when you get into a conversation with a bow legged person be prepared for the unexpected. Be ready to go deep if the conversation allows it. Be prepared to enter into the suffering and God bless your willingness to do so.