Q: Last year my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s going through treatments and things are looking up for her now. But I’m not really good at talking about my feelings. It’s like the words just won’t come out. I feel empty, almost as if I have no emotions sometimes. I can’t even cry. I put on a smile, but at the same time it hurts so bad. How do I let my mom know that I’m here for her emotionally even though my own heart is broken?

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Wow. I know only too well how hard it is to watch your mom suffer through cancer. I was 27 when I had to say goodbye to my own beautiful mama. And I know that there are so many feelings —and sometimes an eerie lack of tears—that can feel like a tornado one minute and a numb silence the next. So I’m not going to try to give you easy answers, because there aren’t any. But I can tell you that you’ll thank yourself later if you let her know how much you love her today.

I know you want to “be there for her.” But I have a feeling what she needs more than to know you’re there for her today is that she has always been there for you. Whether you get another month with her or a few more decades, she needs to know that despite her faults and mistakes, you love her... [pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Whether you get another month with her or a few more decades, she needs to know that despite her faults and mistakes, you love her…[/pullquote] You love her for the sacrifices she has made for you; you love her for the many wonderful qualities she has. If you have trouble getting those feelings out in person, then get creative! Write her a letter. Make a playlist of songs that reflect your love. Put together a scrapbook of your favorite memories with her. Or watch your favorite movie together. It doesn’t matter how you say it as long as she feels it.

It sounds like you know that stuffing your emotions down and ignoring them isn’t going to help you in the long run. Putting on a smile when your heart is hurting badly comes back to haunt us eventually. It reminds me of this excerpt from my book Crushed:

When your heart is hurting, sometimes you just have to allow it to hurt. You don’t have to be afraid of pain. You don’t have to be ashamed of tears. A good friend once described pain like a wave. Have you ever watched someone try to get out past the breaking waves into the deeper ocean? The best way to get past a wave isn’t to swim over the top. If you try to do that, you end up getting slapped in the face by the top of the breaker and get a mouth full of salt water. The best way to get past a wave is to take a deep breath and dive right into the center of it. You feel the surge of the water flowing past you, and then you surface safely on the other side. Pain is like that. If you try to fight against it, determined not to feel sadness, you’re going to end up getting slapped in the face with unresolved emotions and get a mouthful of bitterness and fear. But if you take a deep breath and dive into the wave of pain, after the surge of emotions flows past you, you’ll surface safely on the other side. (pp. 66-67)

I know this season is painful, uncertain and confusing. The best advice I can give you is to allow yourself to feel it, and turn to God for your comfort.

As Christians, we can’t control when people we love get sick, but we don’t have to “grieve like people who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). God wants to use even the hardest experiences in our lives for our good and His glory. That’s amazing hope, isn’t it?

Love,

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