To truly know a person's character, you need to see how they respond in a crisis.
We all want to think that in a crisis, we would be like John Wayne, unflappable and able to take charge and get the job done. Sadly, the truth is that we are not all like that. We can be moved off our center by events.
Last night I was playing a game on Facebook, Farm Town. I saw that one of my internet friends was online and playing the game, so I went to check in. We started to chat. This lady, call her June, lives in Montana. She was sitting with her daughter, Violet, just mucking about with the computer. She started the conversation by telling me that things had been pretty crappy lately. And then the story of how she got to be playing Farm Town with her daughter came out.
June's Aunt May is dying. She is afflicted with both a blood and a brain cancer and has been suffering for about six years now. She is now at the point where the doctors have said that there is maybe three weeks left. And she is in some pretty major pain now. June just wants her Aunt to be comfortable. After all of this time of lingering illness and pain, she just wants her Aunt to be relieved of the pain. She is reconciled to what this means.
June's mom, Sue, is another story. Sue is everything that May is not. Sue is one of those people who refuse to live in the same world as the rest of us. She refuses to accept that her sister is dying, because that would hurt her. She thinks that June is terrible for comforting May, and for telling her that it would be ok for her to die. She is, in a word, selfish. So selfish that she got herself and her daughter thrown out of the hospital last night.
What do you say when a friend tells you something like this? That her mother came into the hospital room where she and her aunt were talking about wanting the pain to end. A talk where she consoled her aunt that it is ok to want to die to end the pain. Into this imagine the mother walking in and pitching a major screaming fit? Mother and daughter getting into a fight. Grand-daughter trying to separate the two women. Grandmother shoving the grand-daughter out of the way so she could get back to her own daughter. Aunt is still in the bed, in pain. June tells me that she ended up with Sue against the wall, apparently threatening to choke her in order to stop the insanity.
Why was Sue so unreasonable? To my ears, it sounds like she is in some pretty severe denial. She doesn't want to accept that her sister is dying. June tells me that her mother is incredibly selfish, and this is only the latest example of a life of selfishness. And Aunt May? Still in pain, watching the meltdown of her family in front of her hospital bed.
While we were chatting, June had to leave for a while as she had a long moment. Violet asked me "Is my mom going to be ok?" Pretty scary stuff for a high school freshman to have to endure. She was concerned because she's never seen her mom go off on someone like this. I tried to explain that, yes, her mom would be ok in time. Extremely emotional times lead to abnormal behaviours. Including her mom, who never runs from things, just wanting to curl up in a corner and hide.
It's a pretty blunt introduction to the psychology of stress for a young woman. In the end, we're looking at further estrangement of the mother from her daughter and grand-daughter, the victory of cancer over another good individual, and another day when I truly wonder at the fortitude of the staff of your typical oncology ward.
There, but for the grace of God, go I.