My mother has Alzheimer's disease, my son has multiple sclerosis, and my dog is in remission from malignant melanoma. My closest friend has Parkinson's disease and another dear friend died of pancreatic cancer not long ago. I have written about all of these loved ones' illnesses, and when I've shared these writings, others have told me that my stories helped them.
I am shocked -- no, stunned -- that two journalists as distinguished as the New York Times' Bill Keller and his wife, The Guardian's Emma Gilbey Keller, have chosen to publicly scold blogger Lisa Adams for writing about her personal battle with cancer. As writers themselves, you'd think that the Kellers would appreciate the power of writing as a process for understanding life and coming to terms with painful experiences. Writing is cathartic. Writing is healing. Writing is a powerful way of connecting with others. Writing helps us reach inward -- and upward -- to find the holy, the numinous, the transcendent.
If there is anything I've learned from my loved ones' illnesses and dying, it's that everyone handles painful life experiences differently. Some people go into battle mode, determined to defeat their illness, while others slip into victim mode, seeing themselves as powerless and hopeless. Some folks keep a stiff upper lip, while others break down in a flood of emotions. Who is Bill Keller to tell someone else how to respond to her life-threatening illness? Doesn't everyone have the right to their own feelings about their fate?
People communicate differently, too. Some prefer to process their feelings privately -- in journals, diaries, or in a small circle of family and friends. Other choose to share their disease experiences publicly -- in books, documentaries, blogs and tweets, poetry, songs, and more. Who am I to say what level of public sharing is appropriate? Who is Emma Gilbey Keller to cancer-shame a young woman for blogging and tweeting?
Undoubtedly the most important thing I've learned from writing about my loved ones' illnesses is: "That which is shareable is bearable." Our painful burdens are lightened when we can share them with others. It's a lesson the Kellers would do well to learn.
BJ Gallagher is a sociologist, speaker, and author of over 30 books; her latest is "The Power of Positive DOING" (Simple Truths).