Monday, December 23, 2013


I was sitting next to my patient on a bedside chair. We were talking about his diagnosis and what would need to happen once he left the hospital. And, mostly, it was fine. He seemed to have good insight and his questions cleaned up any parts that weren't clear.

"What other questions do you have for me?" I asked. I was preparing to leave, actually. He'd already had several questions and I admit that I expected him to shrug and tell me he had none. But instead, he just stared at me like he was thinking. Thinking of an important question. "What is it?" I finally just asked.

"Is your life happy? Are you happy?"

That's what he asked me. And it's weird because my instincts told me immediately that this question had far more to do with him than me. So instead of feeling like his question was intrusive or psychoanalytical, I saw it more as a door to a conversation.

"Why do you ask?"

This was my reply. I needed to confirm my hunch. Perhaps I was wrong, you know? Like maybe my eyes looked sad or my face unknowingly haggard. So I asked to find out.

"Because. . . .you seem. . .like you are maybe. Or like you try to be. And I wonder what that feels like. To be happy."

And what was I supposed to say to that? I just kept my eyes plastered on his and dragged in some air through my nostrils. Hard enough to pull my chest forward yet otherwise subtle.

"I know my life is good," I finally responded. "More good than anything else. So I focus on that. Mostly, I think I'm very happy."

"But what does a person do when their life is more bad than anything else?"

I didn't know that answer. So I stayed quiet.

See, his life was hard. A rough upbringing without the right kind of nurture. Financial strains, health issues and mind struggles from having his innocence robbed from him far, far too early. So now the compass was broken. His heart was confused and for his life he'd been running scared.


"I wish I could be happy. I wish I knew what that was like."

He saw my brow furrow and that excellent insight kicked in again.

"No, I don't want to die or anything. Not like that. But I just wish I wasn't always fighting so hard to just feel okay. I'd like to wake up and just feel happy inside without trying."


"Sorry to be so heavy."

"It's okay."

"Is there anything else I need before they let me go?"

"Just the nurse to come and do the discharge. Otherwise it's fine."


I hated the way the subject had changed. I didn't want to trivialize his feelings, though, by giving some peptalk about how if he'd just rah-rah-rah and sis-boom-bah that his broken pieces would suddenly float into the sky and repair themselves. Even though some part of me hoped that he would think that on his own.

Whether it was true or not.

That was the end of our conversation. It was. I wish I could tell you that some magical thing happened where a perfect, poignant word came to my mind that I shared with him. Instead I just left him alone with those thoughts. And I'm still not sure how I feel about that. Cowardly? Like I missed an opportunity? I'm not sure.


Today I am thinking of him. And I do know that I listened to him better than I would have a few years ago. With more listening comes more learning. I'm realizing that so many people share his melancholia and that for a lot of folks it isn't as simple as it looks. Not for the ones whose compasses are broken and who are running scared. And for the ones who were lucky enough to overcome all of that? I know that wasn't easy either.

My life isn't perfect. But thank God I was given a working compass to guide me to the closest thing to happy that there is.


Happy Monday.


  1. You did the exact right thing by NOT being all sis-boom-bah. Trust me. Your patient had heard all of that before and it never did one bit of good. You simply accepted and believed.

  2. Sometimes just having someone acknowledge the thought makes all the difference.

  3. If he was asking for help I truly wish there was a place and someone that could help him...that is what is so sad to me. So many people have nothing to fall back on matter how hard they try. Everybody needs a soft place to land ...

  4. Ms. Moon, your reply was perfect. Your wisdom is priceless.
    Dr. M, thank you so much for your candor and willingness to share. What a gifted writer and teacher you are.
    - L

  5. In therapy, they teach us that we are the blank slate onto which the client projects their thoughts, if we listen compassionately and not try to "fix" them, the slate reflects back what they need to learn. Sounds like you were a great slate.

  6. Nobody has all the answers. As is said above, hearing him was the key thing.That's why you feel uncomfortable. You heard him.

  7. This blog always makes me think & reflect. Thank you for that.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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