I am not well. Last night my pain was so crazy intense I had to call for morphine at 3am (Medic!). This morning my breakfast did not remain my breakfast.
I have stopped the Testosterone therapy to see if the pain is coming from it as a side effect or is coming directly from my cancer.
Yes, my glass is officially half-empty today. Actually, it is completely empty as nothing will stay in it.
Since I am patient zero in this blog, let’s use my situation as a case study in care.
Let’s tap into your amazing desire to love messy people like me well and see if we can learn to do this better together.
The first thing you must embrace, by way of orientation, is that people with terminal diseases are train wrecks. Our diseases may be different (even though they may have the same names) but we are no longer upright on the tracks of life.
Now, if you were enjoying your trip, making good time, and with no worries on your mind, to suddenly derail and be a hot mess all over the tracks might create within you an emotion we call:
If you are caring for someone freshly diagnosed, your primary job is to create some space where they can get in touch with and process this anger. Tread courageously, but carefully. We want you to survive.
Remember, their world was just swept out to sea. The loss that ensues has to be deeply grieved. Feeling anger is an essential part of this.
As someone who cares deeply for this person, this puts you in a tough spot. We might lash out at you because you’ve made us feel safe enough that we can unload our emotional burden on you.
Don’t minimize our potential to abuse you. Helping someone process their health-related anger requires care with a backbone.
My wife, Betsy, is a pro at this. If I get wound up too tight and she has had her fill, she will stand up and say, “We can continue talking about these issues later. Right now, I think we both need a break.” She then walks out of the room for emphasis.
The important thing here is to be present with boundaries. If things get too crazy, offer to come back in a couple of days just to sit together.
Don’t talk, as weird as that may seem. Just offer your presence, sitting together in silence, letting your friend know that they are not alone in this crisis. Someone is with them who cares deeply for them.
Processing this anger with them, exploring it by asking good questions, and being present to it with them, even in silence, are all good gifts you can offer.
When the tears come, you have done well. Beneath the energy of anger is usually a scared little girl or boy. When they show up to the train wreck, people are being cared for well.
Now let’s flip it for a moment. If anger requires listening and processing (with appropriate boundaries), there is another issue you will most likely up come against that requires self-awareness and caution:
Victimization is a trap people like us lay for our care-givers to keep them listening and processing with us forever – world without end, amen.
Many care-givers often have a (small) touch of co-dependency they are also dealing with (or not), so caring becomes a match made in hell.
I need you to wait on me hand and foot and you need to be needed. I love it when a plan comes together!
Enter Betsy again to bring all this dysfunction to a halt. Yes, I admit that I play the “cancer card” frequently. Ok, perhaps I overplay it, but it’s only to help others better meet my needs with more precision and accuracy.
Betsy, it should now be announced, also has a “card” of sorts. I call it the “Betsy Glare.”
Can you show us a pic, Ed? No. Betsy says it is trademarked and I can’t afford the fee.
I reminded her that my readership doubles whenever I include a picture of her in one of my posts. She gave me the glare.
Here’s what the glare does, however you express it – it tells people like me that your kind care, again, has a backbone.
Yesterday, Betsy brought breakfast out on our front porch on a lovely tray. It consists of scrambled eggs, cheese, ham, an english muffin and coffee (she’s trying to keep some weight on me).
Yes, of course, there was also a small vase of flowers picked from our yard. She might have done this while I was sleeping.
Afterwards, I burped politely, and asked her if she would mind wiping the corners of my mouth (it was a joke, I promise you).
She gave me the glare and then said something important:
“I will always care for you; I will never coddle you.”
It’s okay to be well-cared for when have terminal cancer; it’s not okay to also be a victim. Good care-givers know where to draw the line.
You may have noticed that we didn’t put all of our caring suggestions into a pot and make a stew out of them today. That will be next week, if you will assist me.
Using the comment section (or private email to me) below, tell us your stories of caring and being cared for. What was helpful, what wasn’t? Why? What can we learn from you?
We are all humans, so let’s give each other a break and forget about doing it “right” and all that crap.
Blog reader and friend, Steve Post, captures this in his comment from last week:
“I would also remind the infirm, though, to extend grace, for clumsy love is better than no love at all.”
But, apparently, don’t ever wipe the corners of my mouth.
© Ed Hague. All rights reserved.