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Compassion Fatigue

"The truth is, we thought he'd be dead by now and you could get back to your regular work schedule but he's not.   How much longer is this going to drag on."

Can you imagine hearing these words from a friend/co worker?  It happened to a close friend of mine that I work with, in reference to the fact that her husband has cancer and was given 6 months to live but 7 months later, he's still here and she is still missing work to care for him.

It took everything I had to not melt in a puddle of sadness, hearing those words that were so carelessly spoken to her.   In my friend's shaky but firm voice, she said, 'He's not dead.  He's just dying.  I don't know when it will end.  What am I suppose to do?'

I don't have any answers but I see this problem all around me.

I've been intrigued with this notion of dying but not yet dead...A few weeks ago, Spencer and I went to a ghost town in Montana.  We've been to ghost towns before but they have been staged and commercialized so it's not that cool.  This one has been left mostly untouched.  The homes and buildings are just as they were a hundred years ago.

 As we wandered through this town, I couldn't help but think about who lived here.  How is it that an entire town just dies?  How is it that it could have been forgotten? An entire town, just forgotten. And, who was the last one to leave?  How lonely that must have been to just walk away from your life, your house, your town.

I guess I can't help but draw a comparison to this ghost town and living with a chronic disease, especially in light of my friend's experience.  At some point, the chronic story gets old and like my friend says, 'you become invisible, people just think it should be over.'  People pack up and leave your little town of worry and illness and you become the last one living in your little forsaken place.  You try to venture out to the next town over where life is brimming with flurries of industry and activity but it just doesn't feel like you, you don't fit in no matter how hard you try to look okay. The crowds press against you, through and around as you stand there feeling lost, not quite sure where to go or what to do.

Living with a chronic illness is paralyzing at times.  Especially when a doctor so easily times out your life.  You come to accept that as a reality you count on.  When you time out but your still here, it then becomes a limbo of sorts. Living in limbo is hard. You aren't dead...just dying.

I don't think you ever really get use to feeling abandoned but you accept it.  It's a hard thing to navigate.  My friend keeps saying, "I can't blame them for being angry that he isn't dead."

Yes, you can blame them!  What right does anyone have to question God's plan?  What right does anyone have to show anything less than love and compassion?  What right does anyone have to question the sanctity of life and who lives and who dies? No one chooses cancer.  No one chooses any other trial or hardship that besets them yet we treat each other like they had a choice and chose to suffer so they could somehow garner attention and care and so onlookers, arbitrarily assign a life expectancy to the amount of compassion they can show.   I get tired of excusing poor behavior, dismissing our own life God planned for us, to make someone else more comfortable about their self absorption.  That... is giving up your right to live.  I've done it too much myself but it hurts even more to see my friend facing it as well.

Sadly, I see my friend paring down her friends and acquaintances.  You aren't sure who you can trust with your story but you are sure you don't ever want to feel deserted or 'other' again.  It's a fine line we live between belonging and not. A ghost town...



  1. I think if I had been there, I don't think I could have held back the thought that immediately and loudly came to my mind: "Are you cropping me?!?!?!?" Who says garbage like that???


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