You have showed me great troubles and adversities, but you will restore my life and bring me up again from the deep places of the earth. You strengthen me more and more; you enfold and comfort me. Therefore I will praise you upon the lyre for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing to you with the harp, O Holy One of Israel.
Psalm 71: 20– 22, Book of Common Prayer
I have no idea how men do cancer, but for many women, a sense of comfort is key. Initially, my fear of having CATscans was allayed when kind technicians brought me heated blankets as I sat and sipped barium. The blankets, even though I was fully clothed, were about kindness as much as warmth. The woman who tucked the blankets around me was doing what every loving mother does—tucking me in.
Women are often given stuffed animals after surgery. One friend brought me a cat, knowing that I was missing my own live comfort-givers. It’s a small thing, and some women resent it, viewing stuffed animals as infantilizing to women (Barbara Ehrenreich most vocally and incisively in her terrific essay “Welcome to Cancerland”). That’s a personal choice, and a good friend will know whether to provide a stuffed toy or not.
Women also get pampering gifts; I got eye pillows and big comfy pajamas, warm socks, and a number of prayer shawls. These last were especially comforting—I knew that prayers had gone into the knitting or crocheting of the yarn.
Whatever the gift, it signifies, “I’m sorry this happened to you. I wish I could make it go away.” The gifts are tangible expressions of God’s care and comfort.
I love these verses, because they speak of strengthening as well as being both enfolded (as if in warm blankets) and comforted (with stuffed animals or prayer shawls). God uses humans to offer us this strength, enfolding and comforting. As we recover from treatment, many of us are able to reach out to others in more tangible ways. The circle of giving continues—a cause for praise, indeed.