By Jody Valley
Support until the end
Q: I am so distraught, I don’t know if I can stand it. I just found out my best friend has incurable cancer. He was told today he only has six months to live. It is so unfair; he is only 32 years old. He is a wonderful person, bright, has a great job, and wonderful relationship. He is the best person I have ever known, and now he is dying. I am so mad at God, it just isn’t fair. Why would he take a good person and leave all the assholes in the world to live? I don’t know what to do or say to “Gary.” I don’t know how to support him, or if I can. I think if I talk with him, all I will do is cry, so maybe I should just stay away so as not to make it worse on him. If I go see him, should I talk about it with him or just pretend that everything is OK?
A: It is always hard to find out someone you love doesn’t have much longer to live. All the things you are thinking and feeling are things others think and feel in the same situation. My best advice to you is to not stay away. That would be the worst thing you could do for Gary, as you would be abandoning him when he most needs support. I also think that you would one day regret it if you didn’t hang in there with him. What to do or say: Ask him what he needs from you, what he needs today will be different from what he needs in three or four months, so keep asking. His partner will need support, too. If they don’t seem to know, don’t assume they don’t need anything. Look around and where you see a need, ask if you can help. Most of all, be there for them. Let them both know you are open to talk, if and when he or they want. (Don’t worry about crying. It’s a real and appropriate response, if that is what you need to do. Just don’t carry on and put them in the position of taking care of you.) My several experiences of supporting a dying person have turned out to be an incredible spiritual time for me – a blessing.
All families are equal
Q: I read your column all the time, but I never thought I would actually be writing to you. I am having a problem with my daughter’s teacher. I have tried talking to her, but nothing seems to work. The problem is that she always talks about families as being a mother, father and children. She never sees other configurations and when she does projects or assigns homework it is always about your mother, your father and children. One example was an assignment to go cut pictures out of magazines for each family member, describing what they like to do. Each child in the class was given a packet of pages with “mother,” one for “father,” and they were given five pages for children. The directions said they only needed to use what was needed, but my daughter has two moms and her father is a sperm donor. One of my daughter’s friends is from a single parent household; another little girl is being raised by her grandmother. These are just three of the children that I know the packet didn’t work for. When I have talked with the teacher (on numerous occasions), she always says she will try to remember to include other configurations, but that she knows that children understand that families are different. She says she gets so busy and she just forgets. How can I make her see the importance of not making any child feel as if their family is less important than a traditional family?
A: It sounds like talking to her didn’t and won’t change her behavior. I don’t buy into her excuse as being busy and forgetting. It is my guess that if it were important to her, she would remember. It doesn’t take any longer to let children know that families come in all different shapes and sizes and to honor each configuration. Not only is it important for your daughter to hear this, but also it is important to all the children in the class. This is what brings about acceptance of different lifestyles. Why not talk with the principal about what is going on in this classroom? If it is going on in this class, it may be going on in other classes, as well. See if he or she would be willing to have some sensitivity training for all the teachers in the school. If the principal backs you, the teacher will probably have a better memory when dealing with these issues.
Have a problem? Send your letters to: “Dear Jody,” C/O Between The Lines, 20793 Farmington Road, Suite 25, Farmington, MI 48336. Or, e-mail: [email protected] Jody Valley spent 12 years as a clinical social worker. She worked with the LGBT community both as a counselor and a workshop leader in the areas of coming out, self-esteem and relationship issues. The “Dear Jody” column appears weekly.