How to help a friend who’s in such pain they say they don’t want help

pkt asks:  A few weeks ago we found out that my bf’s little brother has a cancerous brain tumor. Doctors said it would be too risky to operate and there is no possibility of any treatment .He went into a coma but thankfully recovered from it.  But His condition is not getting better, and my bf was devastated. He is very sensitive, especially when it comes to his family. And I feel very very scared. I can’t bear to watch him in pain. I don’t want him to get hurt. During the last few weeks, I have tried to be there for him, but I just moved for college and we are doing long distance so I feel helpless here. I want to be with him and comfort him, and calling and texting feels insufficient. My bf is doing well but I know he is hurting inside, and I don’t know what to do. I avoid asking questions about his brother because it hurts him to speak about it. Also he panics and gets angry and says things like “Why do care so much? i don’t need you – my family and I will face it together!” and it hurts because I consider him my family but he doesn’t.  I understand he’s hurting so I don’t say anything. When we found out about his brother’s condition, I used to constantly check up on him and ask, “Are you well?” “How is your brother?” “Take care,” “I’m always here if you want to talk,” “We will face this together,” “Calm down,” etc., but that just doesn’t seem enough to me. Since this I have been really anxious. Even now if my bf doesn’t reply for a hour or two I I feel scared that something has happened to him or his brother. Shirelle I don’t want to feel this way, and I don’t want to see him in pain, and his brother… It breaks my heart because they don’t deserve this. I hope by some miracle everything will be okay. I pray that his little brother will fight this. Is there anything else I can do for him? I feel like if I constantly don’t talk/try to comfort him he will think I don’t care. How do I stop being this anxious??

Hi pkt –

Thanks for your question about this absolutely terrible situation with your boyfriend and his brother.

You probably know I recently lost my best friend to cancer.  So this question really connects for me.

I have both good news and bad news for you, to your question about what you can and should do.  (I wish I had enough medical knowledge to give you good news about your boyfriend’s brother, but I honestly don’t know enough to say anything on that.)

The bad news is that your boyfriend and his family are going through the deepest torments of Hell.  Cancer is awful in anyone, but humans (and dogs) are programmed to believe that children will thrive, that everyone’s kids will outlive them, and that people have the power to help each other all the time.  And this situation goes against all those beliefs.  This is everyone’s worst and deepest fear coming true right in front of them, and there’s nothing they can do to stop it.  Yes they’re doing all they can medically, and I hope they’re finding some spiritual connection (like your prayers) to help, but in the end, they’re helpless.

And because of that, you are too.  Those mean things your boyfriend said to you about not being included are just his pain talking.  He knows you care, and can’t let your love in right now while he’s going through all this.  (Aria’s friend Ugmo recently told me that he’s realizing he isn’t allowing himself to remember all the fun times he had with Aria, and is only remembering her being fearful and weak – because when he remembers her joy it hurts too much!)  There is nothing right you can do, because all your boyfriend and his family want is solutions, and you don’t have the ability to fix his poor brother – to make his life easier or to save it.

But at the same time, I have good news for you.  Just as there’s nothing “right” you can do, you also can’t do anything wrong, as long as you act from love.  Calling him, telling him you care, asking how he’s doing – it’s all good.  Also giving him space when you sense he needs it, is a wonderful way of showing love.  

Even your anxiety is a showing of love.  And someday, when he’s able to hear it, you telling him how much this tortures you will be a statement to him of how much he matters to you.

And yes, I’m all for praying.  Pull in whatever divine miracles you can – I can attest they do happen – and give that poor suffering kid your love in that way too.

pkt, I wish life offered answers to everything, but this is one of those cases where it doesn’t.  What we can do, though, is to love.  To love in our hearts, and to actively love by our actions.  And although it seems not enough, it’s actually everything.

Just as I’m sending all the love I have in my hyperactive doggy heart to you – and wishing you, your boyfriend, his family, and especially his brother, all the very best possible, including miracles that no one sees as possible just yet.

With all my heart,


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