Book recommendation time!

Yes, there is actually a book entitled Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?. It’s by Ajahn Brahm, who is a Buddhist monk in the Thai Forest Tradition. (Ajahn Brahm was born in the United Kingdom, and now leads a monastery in Australia.) You don’t have to be a Buddhist to appreciate the book.

The book is composed of 108 stories, proverbs, experiences, and what have you. The title piece involves a story about someone who has a truckload of dung dumped on their front yard, and the choices it presents. Do they get angry, moan, wail, and do nothing about the pile of dung? Do they go through some of that and then move on? Do they go, “Well, dung makes great fertilizer for the garden…” (I won’t spoil it any further, as you really should check it out yourself.)

There’s also quite a good section on sickness, grief, and death. One story that I particularly liked was entitled, “Visiting the Sick.” Ajahn Brahm shares some useful advice:

“[The nun] explained that when all her other friends and relations came to visit her, they became so sad and miserable seeing her dying that it made her feel much worse. ‘It’s bad enough dying from cancer,’ she said, ‘that it’s too much to deal with my visitors’ emotional problems as well.’

She went on to say that I was the only friend who treated her as a person, not as someone dying; who didn’t get upset at seeing her gaunt and wasted, but instead told her jokes and made her laugh. So I told her jokes for the next hour, while she taught me how to help a friend with their death. I learned from her that when you visit someone in hospital, talk to the person and leave the doctors and nurses to talk to the sickness.”

I remember when I was dealing with some pretty serious depression. People would ask me how I was feeling, and I’d just want to scream. I was fighting nightly with thoughts of suicide, and someone wanted to know how my day went? I know that these feelings come from a good place. I just couldn’t hear that at the time.

I would add to Ajahn Brahm’s story slightly. My folks have been incredibly supportive, both emotionally and in terms of dealing with the myriad of phone calls to doctors, insurance companies, pharmacies, and all the other rigamorole that comes from being ill. If someone asks you – and they’ll probably be close enough to you that you know who you are – being an advocate/ally for a sick person is an incredibly valuable thing. Someone to research treatment options, ask your doctor about them, that sort of thing. (Caveat: Do this only if asked. Unsolicited advice probably falls in the “not helpful” category.)