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Sunday December 30th 2018


Chronic Snarkopolist: Learning to Listen with Love

Post Published: 22 September 2010
Category: chronic autoimmune conditions column, Chronic Snarkopolist, Column
This post currently has 20 responses. Leave a comment

Hello my loves!

Sharing stories heals us.  Stealing grief or comparing illnesses in order to one-up or diminish another person’s pain does not.

This message was brought home to me this week when I lost my little four-legged ball of fur.  I’m a grief counselor. I have sat with people while they died. I have turned and held their families through their pain. I know how to sustain it. It hurts. Pain hurts. I also know that death is not something we are used to and often deny or run from. No matter how “expert” I am my loss hit me in my guts so hard I had to lie in bed for two days without bathing or moving –just grieving and crying.

GRIEVING IN MY OWN WAY. I also had to accept other people’s sincere love. I needed to reach out. And many people shared with me their love. It was so touching and beautiful.  Yet- something hit me – on many levels we are confused how to truly LISTEN to each other. When we get a diagnosis or have loss – other people rush in to TELL US their stories – rather than LISTEN to the grief and pain of the person who is hurting.

Many people thought they were being kind, (and I took it as a kindness because I understood the intent) when they said, “I lost my dog last year.” Yet, it would have been far more kind if they had said, “I’m so sorry.”  Similarly, when someone just finds out they have thyca people rush in to say, “Well isn’t that the best cancer to have?” Or if someone has lupus people say, “You don’t look sick!” Or when you’re on chemo people say, “When are you going to lose your hair?” And the hysterical answer is, “I have no fucking clue if or when!!” And it is so macabre – I’m not your spectacle – have a heart – have some compassion! Say you are sorry- sit with me through my pain! Listen to me!

And this message was brought home for me with the loss of my bundle of love bug. Rather then thrust their pain at me – I would have been comforted by a hug or a sincere “I’m sorry.” Or given the chance to cry in someone’s arms.  A few friends offered to talk to me – but in the middle of the conversation they began crying about their own animals a few years ago before I even shed my own tears.  And so I just went to bed. I lie down. I cried and mourned.  I sent a few e-mails and received a few from people WHO GOT IT.  And I realized that a few of us KNOW.  A few of us GET IT.  A few of us understand that SHARING IS HEALING.

There are NO COMPARING or COMPETING among grief or losses or illness.  There are ways to share pain or say, “Really- this happened to me too- you are normal. But it is not the same as shoving down someone else’s pain to disclose your own before the first person even tells their own story.  We need to do better.  It is our job.  It is our duty to each other to take care of each other and serve each other and heal each other from the inside out.

Meanwhile – this lesson was one I could have lived without. But I have re-learned it. I’m remembering how powerful a simple “Thank you for sharing,” can go. Or saying, “I’m so sorry this happened.”  And then there can be ROOM for the other person to be heard.  We can bear witness to each other’s pain and walk through their experiences with them.  We do not have to compete for attention or loss.  We will each have our turn.  We will each share!  We can all share and heal together – but take the hurt that comes.  When a fresh wound is open- heal it and experience that story with respect.  Love it.  Tend it.  And THEN perhaps some sharing or some room for more dialogue or conversation – for organic discussion will grow from it.

I’m still learning every day how to do illness well.  Every day people teach me.  And every day I show people how to live a beautiful loving life.  In my grief and loss I know my pain is born of love and compassion and a connection to a beautiful being.

The most loving thing a person said to me was, “sorry, my sweet pea (palm tapping over heart)”.  Other various kind things were said. The worst thing was, “You can always get another fucking cat and if it was your whole life you need a new life.” So – in all – I’d say I went the spectrum over the last two days.

And – I’d say this parallels the spectrum of how people react to us when we are diagnosed with illness.  Some are so compassionate and some are complete assholes.  Some just scram out of our lives and others jump right in.  Some want to tell us their stories and feel so SURE we want to know.  Meanwhile – sharing stories heals! There is a place for sharing and conversation- just not to the newly diagnosed who is still going through the pain and horror of dealing with the new fear and pain!

We’re all in this together! We must find the sensitive place inside us to LISTEN. And then after we have HEARD the stories – we can SHARE our own and be HEARD.  We can give and receive with RECOPRICITY and in equal measure.  We must make space for it.  We must.

Sharing stories heals. Truly and deeply listening to each other is our gift of love.

What do you think? Have you ever felt competed with when you were dealing with pain or your illness? Do you feel trumped or one-upped when you’re having a bad day or trying to share your pain? How can we be better listeners? How can we be better at sharing and healing? I want to know!

See you next week same time same place! Kiss kiss!

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20 Responses to “Chronic Snarkopolist: Learning to Listen with Love”

  1. Lisa says:

    Oh Melissa, my heart just breaks for you! I am so sorry you lost a loved one. I am sending you healing light for strength and comfort. I am proud of you for taking the time out to be alone and just allow yourself to mourn.
    Here’s a big warm hug….


    • Melissa Travis says:

      Dear Lisa,
      Thank you SO MUCH for your compassionate words! I was feeling so sad when I wrote this. The time has passed and some of the wounds are healing. Feeling the love here is helping too!!

      I’d love to know how you’ve dealt with sharing stories and how you’ve felt in the past too.. How can we learn from our painful experiences and bring them to our lives?

      THANK YOU! Your kindness is SO much appreciated!

  2. Lolly says:

    Melly Mel if I could reach out and just hug you and let you cry on my shoulder I would. I am so sorry for the loss of your fur baby, I know how it feels and I hate it. I have more compassion for animals than I do for humans because they just know how to give us unconditonal love. I’m sorry I wasn’t around either I had no idea I feel your pain let me take the strain I have been through it many times and it never gets any easier. I hope you can cherish all the good times you both shared together.

    I won’t be around much, so keep well and keep your chin up.

    Big (((((HUGS)))))


    • Melissa Travis says:

      Dearest Lolly-Lol,

      I’ve missed you so much!! Thanks for your kind words! I can totally see how it can be easier sometimes to connect to animals. Sometimes they are SO MUCH EAISER to deal with. My heart seems to be completely open around animals when around people I have to actively reach in and WORK to render my shields even invisible sometimes.

      Thanks for your beauty and your support. I’ve missed hearing about your tests and what’s going on with you. You need to hustle yourself back here AND DISH. I need to know.

      much much love!

  3. Lori says:

    Melissa, I am so very sorry you lost your fur baby! I’m sorry you did not have more understanding during this awful time.

    If only more people could remember your words: “sharing stories heals! There is a place for sharing and conversation- just not to the newly diagnosed who is still going through the pain and horror of dealing with the new fear and pain!”


    • Melissa Travis says:

      Dearest Lori–
      Thank you so much for your compassion!! I have certainly been a mess for the last few days!! Thank you for helping bear witness to my pain and my loss.

      And thank you for being here on DT to come and share stories!! I want to know how your own losses and diagnoses have been handled by people… have people been too fast to SHARE with you? Have they given you space to talk?

      Right now even my therapist tells me all about her day and doctors apts and I’m like REALLY??? REALLY??? ugh. I just think – where are all my emotionally healthy fabulous Dear Thyroid people!? LOL

      sending the love!!

  4. Monica says:

    I’m sorry, Melissa, your fur baby is no longer with you. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

    I had to learn to listen without expectations since being diagnosed with lupus and then going through the rigmarole of thyroid surgery/cancer and realized 1) most people are too uncomfortable with the subject at hand and don’t know what to say; 2) the people that are self-absorbed and don’t have the capacity to listen are not the people that I turn to for hugs any more; 3) I have a tremendous amount of appreciation for the people that show their kindness and love and I always tell them how much they are appreciated.

    You are greatly appreciated.


    ☮ ♥

    • Melissa Travis says:

      Dearest Monica,

      Thank you so much for your compassion. It is SO SO appreciated and necessary right now!!

      As for your observations and experiences– YES! wow wow wow! 2 is an especially big deal and a big lesson for me! “2) the people that are self-absorbed and don’t have the capacity to listen are not the people that I turn to for hugs any more” RIGHT ON!!

      You are very wise. These are some HARD lessons – painful lessons to learn. Thank you for sharing them here.

      Thank you for writing and sharing!

  5. Amanda says:

    I am truly sorry for your loss. Loss of a pet is real and it really hurts. Things get better over time, but I honestly still break down when talking about my dearly departed pets. It feels real and deep, because your love for them is real and deep. Grieving is important, I am glad you did it. It isn’t an indulgence, it is vital.

    Sharing with others is still very difficult to me, but the little bit that I do here and there has been essential. Otherwise, I would be in the corner sucking my thumb… which still sounds good some days.

    Thank you Melissa. You are a beautiful person….it would be awesome to have someone like you to share with.


    • Melissa Travis says:

      Thank you so much Amanda! Your kind words mean so much to me!

      And I agree with you– sharing is so important. I look around now that I’ve moved to Ohio from Atlanta and feel SO GRATEFUL for Dear Thyroid. This sharing space is SO BIG for me. Having places like this is so vital. I’m glad you’re able to open up even a little and share.

      I find it hard sometimes to open up…I get it!

      Thank you so so much!!!

  6. Margaret Cross says:

    Thanks for this smart, beautifully written piece. It seems like such a natural response when confronted with the pain of others to try to make sense of it by relating it to a pain I myself have experienced, and I know that is not ultimately helpful. Just listening and validating the suffering of others.
    OK, this may seem like turning the story to my own experiences, but bear with me… A friend of mine recently lost her 31 year old husband. No known cause, no substance abuse, he just… didn’t wake up one morning, leaving 2 daughters. I offered intial condolences and what help I could.
    A few weeks later, I checked in online with her… I don’t know why, and I felt embarassed after I typed it, but I said “What you are going through is the hardest, saddest thing anyone I’ve known personally to have to go though.”
    I was stunned when she told me that this made her feel BETTER… She has been surrounded by well-meaning people who love her very much, who have been variously walking on eggshells around her, trying to pretend nothing has happened, or trying to minimize the magnitude of her tragedy as if that will help her move on from it. The “permission” to feel sad, to grieve, to be angry with life was not mine to give, but I felt blessed that in some way I met her emotional circumstances where she needed to be met.
    I have been guilty of not listening far too often. I will think of Mercer the next time a friend comes to me with sadness, and try to be the best kind of friend to them by shutting up.

    • Melissa Travis says:

      Thank you so so much for this beautiful and compassionate message. Your story is also full of beauty. I’m so moved when friends lose loved ones too early like that. Death is so hard on the people left behind. Life is so precious and beautiful. The rest of us are left wondering what to do.

      Thank you for being kind to me and to your friend. And may you ALWAYS be surrounded by good listeners in your time of need. And may we all share and heal and grow from each other along the way!!

      so much love!

  7. Linny says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. You obviously loved your precious one very much. People cannot understand until it happens to them. People who do not know the love of our four legged children, as I call them, could not begin to understand the loss of one that was part of our everyday world. They believe they are helping, but just know as they awkwardly step on their own feet and stick their foot in their mouth others do hurt for you.

    Take care, we all need to be more careful of others, but a bad attempt to comfort is better than a friend who doesn’t try at all. The comment from the worst of those you had was NOT A FRIEND! XOXOXOX LINNY

    • Melissa Travis says:

      Dearest Linny,

      Thank you so much for your kind comments!!! Yes- you are right! They are our four legged kids! I have always thought of them as my children. But people have always told me to not to say that out loud or I’d sound like a loon… and told me to call them my “companions!” ha!

      Meanwhile – yes– the most well meaning people are DEFINITELY at least trying to be well meaning — AND THAT COUNTS! FRIENDSHIP COUNTS!! My article is only investigating ways I can learn from this so I (and we) can all be better sources of support to each other in our times of grief.

      You are a complete doll!! Thanks so much for writing in!

  8. Melissa Travis says:

    Dearest Monica,

    Thank you so much for your compassion. It is SO SO appreciated and necessary right now!!

    As for your observations and experiences– YES! wow wow wow! 2 is an especially big deal and a big lesson for me! “2) the people that are self-absorbed and don’t have the capacity to listen are not the people that I turn to for hugs any more” RIGHT ON!!

    You are very wise. These are some HARD lessons – painful lessons to learn. Thank you for sharing them here.

    Thank you for writing and sharing!

  9. Linny says:

    What I have learned in my little place in the world is TENDERNESS.
    And the lack of it.
    We who live with the daily challenge of waking and beginning the battle each day. Know all to well what a little tenderness can do for our spirits.
    In our homes, at all hours of the night and day as we, with our various struggles have unimaginable needs. It is my clear joy to see my dogs come and know with their tenderness that we need them. They never tirer of letting us hold them and kiss them and need them to just be there.
    As I’ve mentioned before of my young husbands death, I had my beloved Bently (cock a poo) who became my constant companion.
    He would help me cope beyond words. He knew when I needed him most and would just be there behind the crook of my knee as I slept.
    Another set of ears to hear the kids 5&8 and if someone came to the door. I felt so much love for this devoted companion. He lived to be 18. I miss him still and now have Bentle Jr. and Benson.
    I will never try to cover my love for them. My husband feels the same. My children with 2 legs have grown and are on their own. So these special ones give us such companionship and fun with their silly games. My Bently used to carry and play with his metal bowl. It was crazy! He would spin it and play with it. My two now are great too.
    Tenderness is so lost in this world of HARD ASSES! I know we are doing it right. This world needs MORE like us, not less. The modern steel person, eyes forward and unblinking tearing at the heart and joy of others. Calling these feelings of love silly, are robots. Purposeless creatures who rob the earth of all thats good and wonderful. No tears in their eyes unless you hit their car or take their money.
    Stay true, You are who you should be. Bless you and all the creatures of this Earth. But not the monsters!

  10. Teresa Tulipano says:

    Dear Melissa,

    I’m so sorry you lost your baby. It’s awful to suffer through loss of one you love and I’m truly sorry that you are going through this pain.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings and for articulating these ideas. I have felt a similar wish for people to just listen sometimes, without pulling out their battle wounds – I have felt that strange competition, like a suffering rodeo to see who rode the biggest, most bucking bull around the ring the longest. But I’ve also been on the other side and tried to comfort someone by telling my stories to let them know they’re not alone – not to compete, but just to attempt to help in some way.

    I think you are very right that we don’t know how to listen and we don’t know how to deal with grief, and that many people are self-absorbed. It’s a process for many of us, a journey towards becoming more complete. I know I’m on the path – not perfect in any way – just trying my best, and this piece of yours will make me consider my words more carefully when I encounter someone grieving in the future, and hopefully I will be better at it than I have been.

    Sending you many loving hugs,

  11. Lolly says:

    Melissa I wrote out a long reply to you and posted it I look now it isn’t even here no way can I even remember all I wrote so I will do another tomorrow in the hope this one stays put and I’ll keep it short and sweet.

    No results back yet had to have Lupus one redone so that should be back in a few weeks time. blood coagulated so it was no good.


  12. Graves Situation says:

    Many times I have heard people say that they cried for a cat or dog the way they never could for a person. Maybe it’s because the relationships we have with our pets are so pure, so free of baggage, free of what-if and if-only. They love us, we love them. We know we will probably outlive them, but that doesn’t make it any easier when it’s time for them to go.

  13. Nicole Wells says:

    Dear Melissa,

    I am so sorry for your loss…thank you so much for being brave and sharing your story. I adore animals, and for some reason many people I’ve met don’t consider cats to be as important as dogs – I don’t know WHY this exists. I’ve suffered the loss of both, and it’s hard either way – anyone who tries to say otherwise can blow me.

    Please take care of yourself…



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