Don’t “Snap out of it!”

“I’m having trouble with my balance today,” my 84-year-old mother shared in a conversation with me a few days ago. “I’ll be seeing my doctor tomorrow, though, so I’m sure he’ll be able to help me.”

My mother is part of the generation that believes doctors know everything and can fix anything. If they tell her they can’t find the problem, she assumes they really do know what’s wrong, but it must be bad.

After her appointment, my mother and my sister, who lives near her, called me. During the conversation, Carol encouraged my mother to tell me about her appointment.

“The doctor took me for a little walk,” she reported. “He told me I was dragging my left foot, and he thought I must have had a small stroke on the right side of my brain.”

I could hear the emotions rising as she added, “I don’t want to have to use a walker. My legs have always been strong. Why won’t they work now? Why does this have to happen to me?”

At this point in the conversation, many of us would have the tendency to want to be positive, to urge her to “snap out of it” and tell her how blessed she is or how lucky she should feel that it wasn’t much worse. Perhaps we might even chide her for feeling sorry for herself and not having faith.

“I’m sorry you’re going through this, Mom, and I’m sure it must feel very frustrating,” I responded. “You’ve experienced some loss, and you have the right to feel sad and frustrated. I’m sorry.”

Then I was quiet. After a few more expressions of frustration, she seemed to decide to head in a new direction.

“They’re going to fit me with a walker tomorrow,” she said. “At least I’ll be able to get around until I get stronger.”

Feelings are never bad or wrong, and ignoring or denying them is neither helpful nor productive. Listening to and affirming someone’s feelings validates the person. When that individual gains a little stability and confidence, he or she can look up and begin to move forward.

by Chaplain Ron Hyrchuk

January 17, 2008