Cancer diagnosis necessitates grief circles
Dear Amy: I've recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and have focused my emotional bandwidth on my family, my health and curing my cancer. I have a huge support system that includes family and friends. One of my close friends is having trouble coming to terms with my diagnosis, as well as my not taking her up on her offers of help (yet).
This friend called a few nights ago sobbing and looking to me to help her feel better about my diagnosis and my long-term prospects. My diagnosis isn't as good as it could be, but it's also not as bad as it could be. I did my best to help her understand, and then changed the subject.
I'd really rather not be calming down my friends when inside I'm losing my mind with the slow pace of health care and juggling my appointments and treatments.
Is there a gentle and polite way to explain the "grief circles" to her that's nonconfrontational?
I could really use some help, as I have months and months of work concentrating on my health ahead. I'd like to kindly and gently explain to my friend that I cannot be the person making her feel better about my illness.
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-- Not Dead in California
Dear Not Dead: "Grief circles," otherwise known as "ring theory" conceptualizes the important idea that, when dealing with tough or tragic times, it is important for the person at the center of the circle (that's you) to preserve her strength by only dealing with the person most intimately involved in her care -- this might be a spouse, family member, or friend. Other relationships arrange outward in concentric rings. This is called the "kvetching order."
The person at the center of the ring (you) can say anything (complain, cry, howl at the moon) to those in outer rings, but those in outer rings should limit their own needs, fears, and statements and focus only on being helpful. No unsolicited advice, no raging at the injustice of it all, no demands for comfort or constant updates.
Honestly, this seems so logical that it should not need to be spelled out, but understand that ring theory is mainly for you -- to give you permission to react the way you want to during a time when you need to preserve your strength (and "emotional bandwidth").