On Fragility

I was hesitant to post what I wrote about suicide yesterday. And prior to receiving all the affirming and supportive comments, I second-guessed myself. I wondered if I should have written it, if I had gone too far. If I would just upset people instead of offering something helpful.

I was speaking this with my wife last night, and we discovered something interesting. I told her that I often censor myself, that I’m careful about what I say about my depression, and how I say it, as a way of protecting other people. I don’t want to scare them, or hurt them. I wondered if perhaps many people do this. Do people with other illnesses do this too? Do they keep it secret, not to protect themselves, but for the sake of others? Worried that it might upset or hurt someone else if they knew?

My wife reminded me that she does the same with me — she censors herself to protect me. She’s learned not to say certain things at certain times for my sake. And I’m not sure I’m happy about this.

When I saw the symmetry here, that we were both doing the same thing with the same intent, I was saddened. I wondered how much we all do this, how much we try to protect one another, how we create this warped version of The Gift of the Magi.

In my role as pastor, I have encountered families doing this to one another in hospitals. I have sat with elderly patients who are dying, whose adult children have told me, “We’re not telling mother how bad it is. It would only upset her.” I have sat with others who tell me themselves, “I’m not telling my children how bad it is. It would only upset them.” Every time I encounter this, it saddens me. I wish they would talk. I wish they would see how communication actually helps.

Now I see that I do it too. And I wonder. I wonder if it would be better if we would just talk to one another more. I wonder what we would find if we were honest with our loved ones about all of our struggles, without fear of their fragility. I wonder if maybe the people around us aren’t as fragile as we think. I don’t know.

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