notquiteold

Nancy Roman

Interfere

I dispense a lot of advice on this blog.

Clothing advice, dog-raising advice, aging advice, housekeeping advice – and most often – happiness advice.

But it’s a lot harder to give advice in real life than it is to write about all my incredible (incredibly small, that is) wisdom.

I really do believe my advice is good… and that I truly possess a bit of wisdom.

On paper.

Theoretically, I am a genius.

Everything seems so clear to me when it is not actually me.

In real life, I struggle.

But there are some things I know from my own experience, and not just from watching everyone and everything (which is my job, being a writer).

And there is something I need to share. A lesson I learned the hard way.

Interfere.

Stick your nose in someone else’s business.

Twenty years ago, when I worked for Humongous, Inc., I hired a smart, lovely young woman as a financial analyst in my department.

I had interviewed Lynn six months earlier for a different position, and though I liked her very much and was impressed with her skills, I hired another candidate, whose experience was just slightly more relevant to the job. But when I had another opening months later, I called Lynn and asked her if she were still available and interested. And so I just hired her over the phone and didn’t even bother to bring her back in.

When Lynn showed up for her first day of work, the change in her appearance was dramatic. While she had been very thin six months earlier, she was now emaciated. I asked her if she was well, and she told me she had been fighting with anorexia for years, and some periods were better than others. She was getting professional help though, and was responding again. She was open and optimistic.

Her work was accurate and timely. She was insightful, reliable, well-liked and cheerful. But she did not put on any weight. She became thinner and thinner.

Her co-workers became concerned. They came to me with reports that she ate a lettuce leaf for lunch, and then vomited in the bathroom. That she came in early so she could park as close to the building as possible, because she could not walk more than a dozen yards. That she took the elevator even when it was only a single floor to climb.

I worried. But I didn’t want to interfere. I didn’t want to intrude on her personal life.

I wanted to mind my own business.

I told my husband one evening that I thought it was only a matter of time before Lynn ended up in the hospital. I cared about Lynn, but I have to be honest and admit that I also worried about covering her responsibilities if she had to be out for an extended period.

The next time Lynn came into my office with an analysis, I asked her to stay a minute. I closed the door.

“I’m worried about you,” I said, “You seem even thinner than a few months ago, and you look so pale.”

“I know,” said Lynn. “I’m working on it and I’m in counseling and my family is really helping. Things are turning around and even though I look thin, I’m feeling better.”

“Your friends say that you don’t eat.”

“It’s hard for me to eat in front of people because I have lots of weird habits I’m trying to break. But I have a decent dinner with my parents every night.”

“We want to help you with anything you need,” I offered.

“Everyone is great here. I love working here. And HR has talked to me too, and they are very supportive.”

“That’s great!” I said. And I was extremely relieved. Relieved that she said she was feeling better. And relieved that HR was involved. And that perhaps I didn’t have to be.

Lynn called in sick on Friday. She said she had been in a minor car accident and was just a little sore.

And Monday morning Lynn’s sister called me. Lynn had died over the weekend. Her heart just gave out. She was 32.

I learned later that our Human Resources department had briefly spoken to her, but had not been very involved. I learned that she was not in counseling. I learned that there had not even been a car accident. I learned that Lynn was very good at telling people what they wanted to hear.

Could I have saved Lynn by intervening? By being more insistent? By interfering?

Probably not.

But I will never know for sure. What if I had been just a bit more interfering? And a few other people had too – perhaps our cumulative interference might have made an impact.

Probably not.

But it haunts me.

Because the truth of it is – I did not want to know. I wanted to mind my own business because it was EASIER. On me.

There are other words for Interference.

Concern. Involvement. Responsibility.

Maybe Love.

Please listen. Listen to me and listen to those who are in pain.

Don’t back off.

Don’t mind your own business.

Interfere.

You may not be able to save someone.

But you might.

What if you could?

 

lilytomlin2

 

 

39 Comments

  1. Rian

    Love reading your stuff. Came here via Theo, friend of doggo on Twitter. What a sad story—tragic—you must have been devastated. You could not have saved her, even if you had intervened. Unfathomable disease, isn’t it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for stopping by. Yes, Theo is the love of my life – although sometimes I am jealous of his Twitter fame. And Anorexia – yes it is unfathomable. I think a lot about how Lynn could explain her disease so honestly one minute and lie so easily the next. And how we all just watched her slow suicide. Someone I love was deciding recently whether to intervene in a friend’s horrid situation… I told him “Do it. Interfere. Do all you can.”

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Words of wisdom, indeed. Thank you for sharing. We should all interfere more.

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    • I think too many people are left alone to face their demons. Even if their demons ultimately win, at least they should not feel alone.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s very sad. It sounds as if she was set on a path she couldn’t get off and I doubt that you could have saved her but we always think “what if”.when something like that happens and I guess we would be a less caring people if we didn’t.

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    • I don’t think I could have made a difference. But I think I should have tried harder.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post. I’m sure there were many people left feeling the same way!

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    • Thank you. Yes, many of her friends and coworkers and family were angry at themselves for a long time for not trying just a little harder.

      Like

  5. Great post. I’m sure there were many people left feeling the same way!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. You’ve experienced an awful situation that has a universal voice. Thanks so much for sharing and reminding us to slow down, be aware and be there. You tried and cared. I’m sure she felt it. Sometimes the outcome just stinks. I’m so sorry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • At her funeral, her parents told me that she raved about her job. She thought it was the best job she ever had and the best friends she had ever made. I wish we could have saved her.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Such a shame, but sadly pretty common.
    We had a friend who was recently separated and in poor health. Hubby popped in several times and we invited him for evening meals, coffee, general company, but he never took us up on it. We saw him in the supermarket one day and I didn’t recognise him. Could we have done more? I don’t know. You don’t like to be a pain and invade their privacy, but then you don;t like the idea of them being in pain and thinking no-one cares. Always a tough call.

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    • It is hard to find the right balance. My natural instinct is to remain aloof, but I believe it is better many times to go out of your own comfort zone to see if you can help someone else find comfort.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m glad I have the ability to chat to people and hopefully make them smile, especially those older than me who may not have family close by, or perhaps live alone. We don’t know what happened to our friend after we moved away.

        Like

  8. Well done Nancy. Nice article

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is such a such story, served up with some excellent advise. Like you, I have a hard time getting into someone else’s business. With me, it’s often a fear of being rebuffed…which alone tells me that my own little insecurities are more important to me than being of actual help. You’re right: we should all try harder. Thanks!

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    • I think sometimes what I fear is that I will hear something I would rather not hear. Or need to take some action that is difficult for me. I stay in my own lane way too much.

      Like

  10. such a sad story, I meant to say…

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  11. I agree that in this case, there was probably nothing you could do, as Lynn as very good at lying about her disease. (Sadly, I think that’s a big part of the disease.) But I also agree that the right thing would have been to follow up a little bit more. In that case, you would have known that you truly did all that you could, and even more, it might have been one of those times when it helped. We never know when our words or actions might be just the right ones that make a difference.
    That being said, please don’t beat yourself up over this. You did talk to her, and your reluctance to push is understandable. And your shared her story with the rest of us, as a reminder to try to do better. Maybe that will be her legacy.

    Like

    • You are right about that – if I had done more I wouldn’t feel this continuing nagging guilt after all those years. I could live with myself better knowing I had tried. That is one hard lesson to learn – at great cost.

      Like

  12. Theoretically, I am a genius.
    love it:D

    Like

    • Thanks. It’s much easier to be a genius on paper.

      Like

  13. Interfering for many of us doesn’t sit right because we think we should butt out and mind our own business

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    • I know. I feel the same way. I want to let people be free to make their own decisions and yet be supportive at the same time. It’s tricky.

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  14. When I started reading your article, I thought that you are saying ‘do not interfere’ and I grew worried. Because I can’t stop myself from interefering. I sometime pull people out and tell them what they might be doing wrong and how to go about it. I sometimes worry I am being too instrusive. And I hear that give advice only when it is asked otherwise there is no effect. So I wonder what is right and what is wrong. I know you can feel guitly about this issue, even though it’s not for you to carry – you cared enough to interfere, to ask what was wrong. The door on the other side was closed.

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    • I agree. I think perhaps a good balance is to ask people if they want to talk or need some help. So many people feel alone and unheard.

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  15. Val

    Very unlikely that you could have saved her, her mindset would have been such that she probably didn’t trust anyone to understand her. And by the time she died, she may have been so weak that she didn’t even realise she was lying. But the fact that you wished you had helped more, shows you cared, I think that’s enough.

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    • Thanks. I think sometimes that it is egotistical to think I could have saved her … or anyone. But I wish I had tried harder. She was so worth it.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. bo

    Reblogged this on Bobbi's Blog and commented:
    .

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  17. my30somethingadventures.wordpress.com/

    I always find getting the right balance to be difficult. One doesn’t want to look nosy but doesn’t want to seem disinterested.
    You showed her you care and you did it in a nice way.
    With a disease like that, control is so important – I don’t think that you could have done more.

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    • You are probably right, but it does haunt me. I wish I had done more. I didn’t realize that I ws watching her die. It’s terrible in retrospect to know that.

      Like

  18. Pam

    In retrospect it’s easy to see what you should have done, but like you said, you didn’t know that she was going to die. You thought she was going to get better. Don’t judge yourself too harshly.

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  19. My daughter was anorexic/bulimic when she was 15/16. Anorexics are very sneaky and controlling which is part of the disease. All her close friends knew and nobody told us. When I stood my ground after driving her to McMaster Hospital in Hamilton Ontario that had an eating disorder clinic, and refused to leave until a specialist looked at her, she was admitted with a heart rate in the 40’s and 88 lbs. She did not come out of a hospital for 10 months. When I asked her friends as to why they didn’t tell us, they said they didn’t want to get her in trouble. They didn’t understand the disease, and how dangerous it was or that she could have died. It took us years and lots of therapy to understand it. We saw a number of her friends in rehab lose their lives to the disease. It was heartbreaking.
    Don’t beat yourself up, try to stop letting it haunt you. Talk to someone if you have to. As someone who has had a front row seat to this disease I can tell you that your friend was being controlled by a dialogue in her head you could never have competed with. Be kinder to yourself. BTW, my daughter will always be an anorexic, like an alcoholoic but has been in recovery for decades and is now 33 and a mother of the most amazing granddaughter ever.

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  20. Heartbreaking.

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  21. I think you showed you cared. The problem was she didn’t care enough about herself. People won’t accept help unless they care enough about themselves to receive it.

    This is the first article I have read of yours. You are a very talented writer.

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  22. this one haunts me. my sister texted me last week that a good HS friend of hers had committed suicide. i asked if she’d been depressed and my sister said she’d posted something on FB about depressing and my sister thinks now it may have been a cry for help. i could not agree more with your words. your post brought tears to my eyes. thank you and i hope to be able to “interfere” when needed.

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  23. Thank you. There is an elderly couple living nearby and I know they are lonely. You have given me a push to just go there and say hello. I’ve been meaning to go but I’m shy and don’t want to interfere… but I will go.

    Like

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