I felt the knot in my stomach. Just after I talked to the kid, I felt like I had been sucker punched and my blood was pulsing. I was hooked. I knew that feeling, and I knew where that kid was.
This 12 year old kid is a good kid. But he was with his little brother riding their bikes one afternoon, and his brother was hit by a drunk driver. His brother has now been in the hospital for months, has little function, and cannot talk now but moans at a low tone most of the day. That is sad enough.
And yet this 12 year old brother is dealing with lots of guilt and anger and sadness. What is this kid supposed to do when he sees his brother, or when he hears about the driver’s court issues, or when he has to stay at the hospital listening to his brother moan and be fed by someone else and whose diapers must be changed by mom or dad or even him- what is this kid supposed to do? You might be able to pick it up, but because of summer break from school, he is now staying at the hospital for days at a time, even as much as a week.
So today I went to talk with him, which I have done a couple times. Those previous times he has been quiet, sometimes more talkative than others, but always holding some powerful emotions within. I was going to play pool with him for a while on our 16th floor, but when I arrived, I could tell things weren’t right. He seemed upset and frustrated with his family, and he didn’t really want to talk. His eyes betrayed some frustration with life. But his father forced him to go walk with me and talk with me, but I could tell that wasn’t going to go well.
During our short conversation, he didn’t even want to talk about his baseball games or anything about life outside. He was angry and he acknowledged it. I offered to talk with him about his anger with his dad, but he turned me down. I told him that I could see he was really angry being at the hospital, that he didn’t like it here, and that his situation sucked right now. He nodded. I told him he looked really angry, and that I was sorry that all this had happened. It is awful, it sucks, and I could see why he would angry, I said.
But his anger, his hidden, stuffed frustration was eating me alive. Why? Because I remember being the kid who was stuck in waiting rooms while loved ones suffered and died. I hurt for him because I too got to spend many days in waiting areas where I didn’t belong. I hurt for him because I was forced at times to play with friends at the hospital, learn to not be bored there, and play games with a forced smile hiding lots of pain in that place. I hurt for him. I hurt for this kid who couldn’t express himself but as he couldn’t took on more and more guilt for being the cause of these problems. It hurts to watch 12 year olds die. But it may hurt more for me to see this kind of suffering. 12 year olds should not struggle with guilt and be overcome by painful guilt and anger that isn’t theirs. I guess what made it hurt so much to watch was that there was little I could do, little I could say, little I could be to make things just a tad bit better. There is a bit of helplessness, which is often a normal response to someone else’s guilt.
I left that meeting and I could see he was on the verge of tears. I wanted to hit something hard both for him and for me. And you know, that is okay. It hurts but it is likely that every moment that I get to spend, there is trust being developed and I cannot underestimate the impact of being available and just saying it sucks. But it does hurt. And it is important for me to realize that I can’t fix it, and the pain for this kid won’t be something that ever will be solved, go away, or be fixed. But I can hope that he can find comfort, even a little bit, a release from the guilt, even a little bit, and that maybe he will find some joy in life, even a little bit. I did. And that is hope in the midst of despair I think.