No one feels reassured by the phrase "It could be worse." It doesn't help people put their problems into perspective and feel better. If anything, it reminds people that they are going through adverse circumstances and they dwell on them a little more by comparing it to what others are going through. When my friends of mine are going through adverse times and are in the midst of their storms, they often say "I know it's not as bad as anything you've been through" and I always interrupt and tell them "It doesn't matter. Everyone's personal hell is their personal hell." In my head I often think "I wish I had the problems you had… It could be much worse,” but I don’t share that. I’m working on actually showing empathy as opposed to internalizing it. The truth is, many times I do wish I had my friends’ problems. Compared to where I’ve been they’re pretty small. When I talk to an older family member to get their take on how to handle being there for someone, their answers are usually one sentence answers which indicate that the older you get you’ll realize how minute what one considers their seventh layer of hell to be nothing worth fretting when one matures. Sometimes, the answer will be “Really?! Life is much harder than that,” but you can’t really tell someone who’s inexperienced to get over themselves.
Since the day I found out Timile had cancer, I have decided to change my language. As opposed to telling someone “It can be worse, I tell them to count their blessings.” That tends to help people put things into perspective. The day that TImile was diagnosed, I sat outside of the hospital shower room and we were talking. When she got out, she saw that I was looking uncharacteristically morose. It’s not often that something makes me sad and it’s really gotta be something for me to actually look troubled. In an effort to cheer me up, she said “I got cancer, yo. ‘Tha fuck?!” She was trying to cheer me up. I smirked, and she said “If I can’t laugh, then what? Isn’t that what you’d always say?” I agreed and replied “On a scale of 1-10 on the “Life is Shitty-o-Meter,” this is a 9 only behind you have AIDS.” Right after I said that I thought about the phrase “It could be worse.” It didn’t get much worse than finding out that you’re diagnosed with cancer nine days after giving birth to your first child at twenty-five.
That phrase rang in my head a few months later when the surgeon came into waiting room when I was waiting with Cydney and they said to me that her cancer had metastasized throughout her abdomen and was actually stage four. I just sat there quietly and looked at my little girl who was in a stroller and thought to myself “I hope for the best,” but in the pit of my stomach I was feeling like this is the same look I’m going to have to give her one day when her mother dies. It was a look of fighting back sadness just to say with my eyes “Baby girl, it’s just you and I against the world, and the world’s gonna lose against us.” The surgeon and an assistant stayed in the room with us for a couple of moments to be comfort for the news that I had just received. I got it together in a couple of minutes and went into the back room to see Timile. I smiled ate her and looked out the window real quick. All she saw that time was the face I always show in such a time: someone who has it together no matter what.
There was many “It could be worse moments.” When Timile actually passed, when I couldn’t see Cydney for months, and others. But I began to think about my blessings. I have a beautiful little girl, I have my health, and not matter how bad things could be I’m here to fight another day.
My mother told me last night that she had just found out that her breast cancer mentor was diagnosed with stage three lung cancer. After surviving breast cancer three times, this is what was next. My mother was very upset. Not just because of what had happened to her mentor, but because it could be her. I didn’t say it out loud, but I thought about my friend K Star’s mom in which the same thing had happened to. I thought “It could be worse.” She spoke to her mentor on the phone for a while. When she was sitting there silently watching TV, I said t her “count your blessings.” She said “You’re right” and she went to bed.