The impossible job of changing someone’s feelings


I hate not being able to help.

The pull to help seems to come as naturally to me as my 14-year-old dog is drawn to her liver-flavored treats.

And yet, there are times when you have to know you can’t. You just can’t.

At least Dear Reader out there understands my frustration. For this one man, a husband, this ache to help, to change his wife, his pain is magnified a thousand times.

I’ll call him “Ben,” the man who wrote to me last week, explaining that he loves my website, DarynKagan.com, where I feature uplifting and positive news stories.

Surely, I would be able to help, he figured.

Help his wife who is living with cancer, but given a good diagnosis from her doctors.

She’s been sucked in by negative cancer stories, watching them over and over as she surfs online.

He wants it to stop.

Wants it all stop.

The cancer, of course, but also his wife’s attraction to dark, negative news stories and her defeatist attitude.

He’s found he’s powerless.

“No amount of explaining, cajoling or begging that I do can break this habit of hers,” he writes. “I was hoping that maybe you had at least one ‘good’ cancer story that you could steer me toward that would give her more hope.”

It is an order I would love to fill.

And yet.

Yet, I can’t really help him because of what I know.

I know that no matter how much you long to, you can’t tell someone how they should feel.

I can’t tell his wife how to feel about cancer, about life. And neither can he, no matter how much he loves her.

And yet.

Yet, I so understand this loving husband’s frustration.

Surely, you do, too?

Has there not been that old beau you tried to convince to love you back because you could just be so great together if he only saw what you saw.

Have you never begged someone you know to stop using drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or food before they kill themselves?

Have you never been in this husband’s place wanting your spouse or parent to fight back against a disease? To try. Just simply try?

Ben’s heartfelt response was enough to make me want to run over to this couple’s house and shake this woman. “Do you see how much this man loves you? Some people search forever for that kind of love and devotion! Fight, Woman, Fight!”

And yet, I didn’t.

For one, Ben might’ve been desperate, but he was also smart. He didn’t include his address. There’s that.

But bigger than was knowing what I had to say.

The best I could do was write him back and tell him what an awesome husband he is for loving his wife so much, wanting so much for her.

And yet.

I also told him that I believe he doesn’t get to pick his wife’s feelings. Couldn’t even if we tried together.

I clicked, “Send,” feeling like I hadn’t helped at all.

I was wrong.

He wrote back thanking me.

In the end, maybe he just needed his feeling validated, that he’s not crazy for loving his wife this much.

No indeed, he’s not. He might not get to decide how his wife feels, but she doesn’t get to tell him how to feel either.

That’s the thing about depressive rabbit holes. The one you love can go down theirs, but you don’t have to go along.

So, Ben, here’s to you, to love, to holding hope for your wife even when she can’t see it for herself.

I, for one, hope that love and that feeling never changes.



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