Cross-posted from

I recently read about a writer’s sister dying from cancer. He’d posted about it on his blog, including shortly after she passed away. It was quite sad, and I was immediately struck by his comment that she “never, ever complained.”

I don’t mean to take away from this heartbreak in the least. I lost many a friend whose life ended prematurely, sadly and painfully, including a partner. I lost my mother, whose death from lung cancer was devastating, to her as much as to anyone in her life. She, too, “never, ever complained,” except in her most honest moments, when she hated dying and was furious that she could not beat it this time.

We often hear this “never, ever complains” observation about people who, we tell ourselves, bear up under great pain and stress, as if expressing their suffering would somehow make us think less of them. The idea of not complaining, no matter how much pain, fear or anger we have at, say, imminent death, is at its heart a succor to those who are not dying. The truth is, we don’t want to hear the complaints. We don’t want to be reminded that cancer is agonizing and death is frightening, so we tell ourselves that there is something noble in “never, ever complaining,” when in fact it deprives the person dying of their final cri de coeur.

If I again find myself loving someone who is dying in pain, I hope she will scream its injustice. I hope he will tell me how frightened he is, how broken his heart at leaving those he loves. I hope she will tell me, as my mother did, “I’m SO MAD!” and that she will not hesitate to cry out my name in the middle of the night.

And if I find myself dying, I will complain. If the pain is unbearable, I will tell you. If the sense of loss at leaving you is beyond expression, I will cry and tell you words cannot possibly do the job. For if you are leaving me and you never, ever complain, your heart has missed its chance to speak freely with me one last time.

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