Learning to Listen

March 17, 2010

Sisters

Learning to Listen

Recently, I read a blog posting from a mother whose young daughter has breast cancer. She sounded like a loving and supportive mother, and her writing touched me deeply.

She wrote about the comfort we receive from being listened to. Sometimes, she said, her daughter wanted to talk about her deepest fears:  her fear of death, her fear of leaving her little son behind, her fear of illness and pain. In each case, the mother tried to make her daughter feel better, to reassure her, to dismiss her fears. At the time, she believed that was the best thing she could do for the daughter she loved more than herself.

Now, though, she believes that she would behave differently. She would let her daughter speak without interruption, without trying to find reassurance or an answer or a solution. There are no answers or solutions; both women knew that. How liberating would it be for both to acknowledge that fact and talk about what worried them most?

I remember a time when I was very sick and had no idea of what the future held for me and my family. My sister was driving me back from a chemo session and I felt particularly miserable and vulnerable. “What are you afraid of most,” she asked me? I told her about my worries – mostly that I couldn’t imagine how my husband and children would survive without me. She listened for a long time. “Don’t worry” she said. “Everything will be fine because if you are not here, I will stay behind to take care of them all.”

What a relief to hear her say that! She didn’t tell me that I would be fine, that chemo would work, that I would live to be ninety years old. She didn’t tell me those things because she didn’t know. The only thing she knew was that she would be there for my family if I weren’t around. She was honest.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter March 17, 2010 at 11:04 am

I think you are spot on when it comes to talking about one’s fears to somebody else. The thing one needs the most, in my experience, is an objective listener that helps him to get to the bottom of his fears instead of offering him either advice or consolation. It’s possible to do this by yourself actually but it’s quite a bit more difficult that way.

The first step in facing you fear is to come to understand them. I believe this applies no matter what the fear is but I may be wrong as I haven’t experienced anything of that order of magnitude as you describe myself.

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Liliana March 17, 2010 at 11:17 am

Peter,
I agree that we need to face our fears ourselves. But sometimes, when one is ill, vulnerable or frightened, it’s wonderful to have someone who will help you along. That moment of perfect understanding can feel miraculous.

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Cathy March 17, 2010 at 10:09 am

Oh Liliana, this made me cry. My Grandmother says that the most important thing you can do is listen. Branka gave you such an amazing gift that day. You are wonderful sisters and I feel privileged to be your friends.

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Liliana March 17, 2010 at 10:59 am

Dear Cathy,
your grandmother is right, there is nothing like being listened to and being heard.
Just by being there, Branka gives me a gift every day. And so do you, my dear friend.

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Dave Harrison March 17, 2010 at 7:34 am

As per usual your words are heartfelt & truthful. Beautiful words to live by and wwhat a soothing thought to know without question your sister would be there to help comfort Jeff & the kids.
Dave

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