A few nights ago, a good friend called me to pass on some disturbing news. A mutual friend of ours had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. I knew immediately that I had to call him and offer my support. So I called. I heard the phone ring, and then received an electronic message asking me to leave a message. Suddenly I realized I didn’t know what to say.
I had expected to hear his voice or that of his always cheerful wife. I had anticipated that we would engage in conversation where I could express my feelings and assure him that everything would turn out alright. I had thought I would let him know how much I valued him as a friend.
Suddenly it was just me and empty air space, and I had to try and convey the reason for my call to a machine. They say there are times when the best response is silence. In retrospect, I think this was one of those times. I stumbled through a few words to let him know we were thinking of him and asking him to keep us abreast of how things were going. And then, in closing, I said the stupidest thing I could have said. I said “have a nice day”.
I can’t get that out of my mind. Over fifteen years ago, my wife was diagnosed with throat cancer. I was still working at the time and this friend was one of my peers. I still remember how he approached me and offered his support. I remember how over the years in our occasional phone conversations and emails, he never failed to ask about how she is doing. The annual Christmas cards with their best wishes for our good health. He could never know how much I appreciated that. And now, he is confronting his own demons, and I told him to have a nice day.
By now, he is being subjected to frequent doses of radiation treatment. My wife went through that, and I can assure you, most days were not nice days. All the trips to the radiation center, sitting in the waiting room with other patients and their loved ones, most wearing forced smiles. The muted conversation, and nervous laughter. And of course, there were the side effects created by the treatments, both physical and emotional. But also in the room, there was an almost palpable feeling of hope that helped sustain all of us.
It was that feeling of hope that I wanted to convey to my friend. I wanted him to know that I value him as a friend and I want everything to turn out all right. I wanted to let his wife know that we are here, thinking about her too as we know the burden she carries. I wanted to let them know that we can relate to what they are feeling, what they are living. I wanted to tell them that, in the face of it all, to try and stay positive. Look for the small improvements. Embrace every day as a new day, not another yesterday. I want them to know that we care. They are both important to us. They will remain in our thoughts and our prayers while they fight this thing. I want them to know that my “have a nice day” comment, however misplaced at the moment, is in fact my wish for them. A wish for sunny days and happy times ahead. I could wish for nothing less.