Monday, June 29, 2015

If You Really Want To Help

Don't get no better than this. This postcard from my friend Rhonda is the best example of what the bewildered caretaker of a loved one going through cancer treatment needs to hear. Simple, sweet, telling me how valued my friendship is.
Heading into the sixth month after my husband Don's diagnosis of prostate cancer, I'm just now coming out of the numbing shock of it all and heading straight into choppy waters of hope mixed in with depression, anger, gratitude--well, hell, the whole spectrum of emotion. He has made it through radiation treatment, and started a six-month course of hormone suppressant therapy. We're hoping for a good outcome, while knowing with certainty that the future is uncertain.

Many people have been very kind and asked me what they can do to support me and my family. Some, like Rhonda's postcard above, have hit all the right notes. Nothing complicated, simply offers of support and a personal message of appreciation. Before Don's diagnosis and treatment, I am sure I said and did some things that were intended to be supportive, but fell short of the mark. I wish I'd known then what I know now. I wish someone had told me, for instance, that, "Keep your chin up. It's going to be OK," is probably the most superfluous thing to say. Yes, I'm on an emotional rollercoaster, but overall I'm taking care of the usual business. How does anyone else know that it is going to be OK? Not even the radiation oncologist offered such certainty. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook whose 47-year-old husband Dave Goldberg died suddenly in May, writes much more poignantly on the topic of "It's going to be OK" than I hope I ever will.

Here are two other ideas for how to support someone who is squarely facing mortality issues.

When you ask me how my loved one is doing, also ask how I'm doing. As Don's spouse and caretaker, I appreciate the attention. I'm not going through what he's going through, but I'm going through it with him.

Please let me be honest about what's going on in my life. I have gotten the message from some that going into the details is not what they want to hear. Before Don's treatment, I was the kind of person who will tell you exactly how I'm doing. I'm even more that way now. Yet I have gotten the distinct message from some that going into the details is not what they want to hear. Fair enough. But remember, you asked. I now ask people if they want the spruced-up PR version of how things are going. I can certainly do that. Know you're not really supporting me, though. I'm actually supporting your illusion that everything must be sailing smoothly along.

I truly hope no one reading this ever goes through this kind of ordeal. But surely we will all experience losses and will need comfort, and have already. In the meantime, there are plenty of people out there in need of a safe place to share their doubts and fears. Offer a little piece of your shoulder for them to cry on.

No comments:

Post a Comment