When someone you love is sick, like long term sick, it sucks. Some of you have the non-privliedge of knowing such. For that fact, I’m sorry. If that is the case, you will read this and likely agree with much of what I write, and you will perhaps have something even more to contribute. If you haven’t really had someone you love dearly be seriously sick, but someone you know has someone that he/she loves that is sick, well, this post is for you. This is what those people in your life that are managing a sick parent/child/spouse want from you……or so I think…..
My mom is sick; she has cancer, stage 4., along with some other medical conditions that affect her overall well being. I’ve not really made note of it in the blog world. I’ve mentioned a thing or two on Facebook. Many people local to where we live are aware of her condition/diagnosis. With that point in mind, I wanted to share some things that I have learned since her diagnosis in August of 2013, just a week after my wreck and wiring of my jaw.
1. Limit questions.
One of mom’s biggest issues at the start was that she would be asked questions. “What kind of cancer is it?” “How long did they say you should live?” “When do you expect to lose your hair?” and any other potential inquisitive line of thought that might enter someone’s mind. She’s a private person, more often than not, so potential questions made her worry. At first, those opportunities made her want to skip out on events. In September of 2013, just a few weeks after her devastating news, she tried to skip out on a local street fair because she “didn’t want to talk to people about it.” That was when I was in full wired jaw and no driving mode, so ultimately she decided to go, just so the kids and I would have a ride there since Thomas was working. At that point in time, my news was more readily known, so people were asking ME questions about ME, and I responded via wired jaws. At the close of the day, I told mom, “and you were afraid people would ask YOU questions!” Regardless, she held tight to this question fear. Before her first chemo, I posted a picture of us together on Facebook, from the day we preemptively cut her hair short, full of expectation that it would soon fall out. FB friends near and far pulled through in a resounding way that day. There were hundreds of comments and likes on that single picture. Before she went back for her infusion, I clicked on the comment portion, loading them all for her view. As her eyes filled with tears I said to her “Read them mom. All of them. Each one. There are over 100 comments there mom. And guess what……not one asks you what kind of cancer. No questions, just love and prayers.”
2. Avoid Texts/Calls/Emails That Require Action
For some reason, the whole community in which I live and everyone that I’ve ever been related to seems to have my cell number. If they somehow missed out on those phone digits, they seem to have FB access through which they can send messages. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is totally amazing. I love connecting with people, and I love knowing that people care about her and my family. One thing that is sometimes exhausting though is navigating and managing the needed replies. Often, I know you are just checking up on her and me, that everything is spawning from a good intention. When you ask a question, however, you are by default asking for a response. This then requires action from me. Now, I have a few select friends that I expect questions from about her, cause they are my places of refuge to vent and worry and cry if needed. Outside of those few people, it becomes overwhelming, even when it comes from the right place.
So, rather than text me “How is your mom? Is she feeling well? When is her next chemo?” try phrasing things like this instead: “Praying for your mom today! Hope she is feeling well. May her next chemo go smoothly!” Do you see the difference there? It’s subtle really, but one means I *have* to respond, cause you asked a question. The other means I *can* respond but it’s not inherently necessary. And check this out…..the same reply can be given for both: “Mom has had two good days! We go back to the doctor next week.” So, if I feel like responding, have time to respond, or manage to remember to respond, I can do it! If I don’t, just know the message was received and appreciated, but since no question was asked, no response is required. Same premise applies to voicemails: “Just checking up on your momma! Praying for a good day for her!”
3. Don’t Ask or Offer, Just Do
People want to help her. People want to help me. I want people to help her, and believe it friends, I want people to help me! It’s been an incredibly stressful time. There aren’t really words to put into perspective how challenging the past near year has been for my family. I’ve had 4 surgeries since August 2013. There has been a stint of physical therapy and a full 6 months of no driving. I’ve added an baby girl to my family. Mom has had chemo treatments, radiation treatments, surgery, a stroke, and two hospital stays. not to mention multiple and reoccurring scans, tests, blood draws and doctor appointments. At one point, I foolishly pondered how many times Hazel had visited the hospital since her birth, and she had averaged about 3 visits a week for her first 4 months of life. It makes my brain spin. So, when you ask me “What does your mom need? How can I help?” my reply tends to be “prayers!” Now, that is a fully true response, cause she and my family do need them, rest assured. But often I just can’t remember immediately. When you say “Let me know if I can help watch the kids!” I appreciate that more than you know. However, when it comes time for the kids to be watched, sometimes I forget who said they could/would, cause I am operating in a brain fog.
The alternative? Command it/Schedule it/Provide It. Here are some examples of what I mean in action, two of which are from my in-laws, one from a friend:
Soon after mom’s diagnosis, my Mother-in-law gave my mom a gift card to Olive Garden. And guess who else she gave one to as well…..did you guess???….she gave one to me. Do you know what she did there? She arranged time for me to be with my mom by giving us both gift cards for food. At the time, it was even more thoughtful, cause my jaws were just unwired and I needed soft food only, which pasta could provide. She took a meal prep off my hands and off my mom’s. Perfect indeed.
After mom was most recently hospitalized, my Mother-in-law and Father-in-law came down to the house for a full Saturday so I could go and be with mom without having to juggle childcare for Daniel and Wesley. By the time the week was coming to a close, I felt like I had already tapped into all my resources. They didn’t ask to do this, they just said they were coming, even if mom was discharged. They wanted me to have a break. Mom ended up going home that day, and Hazel and I brought her from the hospital to her home and then we traveled back to my home. Once there, my in-laws began to pack up for their hour and a half drive home. As I walked them out to the car, I had a little melt-down. I was five streps past exhausted. They hugged me, encouraged me, and offered to stay longer, until Thomas got off work. I told them it was fine, I would go for a walk with the boys and then put them to bed early. In a completely uncharacteristic move, my mother-in-law takes Hazel from my arms and says, “I’ll hold the baby. You go for that walk–or a run–all by yourself!” Running is a major stress relief for me, and as a mom to three, it is hard to manage logging miles these days. “I’ll be back in 23 minutes or less!” I told her, cause I knew how long it would take me to run the route I had in mind. They had action, which lead to relief for me.
So, “Let me know if I can watch the kids!” can become, “I would like to watch the kids on Thursday for a few hours” (my cousin Leitte is actually pretty spectacular at this one!). “If I can make a meal, let me know!” transitions to “Wednesday night I will bring chicken soup to you for your mom.” It’s action, and all I have to do is receive it, not think about it. Does that make sense?
Here is the final example……a gifted photographer friend from church, Michelle, told me that she would like to take pictures for us. I was floored folks, cause she is talented, and I know taking pictures and editing them takes time. That’s not the kind of trait you just give away……unless you are looking to bless someone tremendously, a person who doesn’t know how many family portrait years might be left. My brother John was in town for a few days, and despite mom not feeling the greatest, she got spiffy looking and we all went across the street to the farmland across from my house. Michelle put forth her best effort and captured some beautiful moments of Grandma with Grandkids, Mom with each kid, My family all together. This was something that I didn’t even have on my radar, but someone told me “This is what I am willing to do…..let’s do it!” and we did! The results are pretty stellar considering the circumstances.
The power of prayers has sustained me so much the past few months. Sometimes, I knew that the Holy Spirit was keeping up the promise to intercede for me when all I could manage was groans in my spirit. I never want to minimize this part in the process, and I will never think that you are sitting idly beside as we manage if all you do is pray. Without prayer, I would certainly be lost. May you not stop, but increase, your prayers for my mom. She needs them on the good days and on the bad. We need them when healthy, but most definitely when sick. Encourage her and encourage me in this process, for I feel like it is becoming very easy to grow wary and weary of what is to come. Point us all towards God’s glory.
Please know I don’t write this to then expect you to do these things specifically for me and my family. I write this cause I feel like often we don’t know what to do for others, so with a shot in the dark, we throw something out there. Sometimes, we stifle what God wants us to do for fear of doing the wrong thing. I want to welcome you to move on behalf of Christ, to be his hands and feet, to those near you that need comfort, whether that be me, my mom, or someone else. Just be a blessing.