People mean well, they really do. Even thoughtless people and those who can’t relate to your situation. I’ve only recognized this in hindsight.
For me, there were too many times when it was difficult to give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I was wrapped up in my own misery. Or maybe they needed a little help from me to help them do better when faced with the very common scenario of someone they know losing someone they love.
Invariably here’s how things would go (at least for me)…
Me: furrowed brow, distracted, irritable and inwardly focused
Colleague, fringe friend, neighbor, peripheral family…: “Are you alright?”
Me: ‘I’ve got a lot on my mind right now.’
Them: “Anything I can help with?”
Me: deep sigh & shoulder collapse‘Not really, but thanks.’
Them: “Is this about your Dad?”
Me: internal sound system launches into Jaws music sequence
Them: “I’m really sorry about what you’re going through. I remember when X was sick <inserts personal story in which I felt compelled to comfort them>…”or “I’ve heard this is tough, X told me that when Y died <insert horror story>…”
By the end of this conversation that I didn’t want to have I would either find myself feeling sorrow for that person because of their personal story, or anxious because who’s to say that my family’s journey wouldn’t become an anecdotal horror story someday?
Never did I get the courage to ask them how they thought they were “helping” me? Wasn’t it enough that I was already feeling bad about my own situation? If I could have pulled out my phone and thrust Brené Brown’s Empathy video in their face, I think I would have.
Now, I know what I’ll do when faced with this situation again. Which I will be. Most adults find themselves as a family care partner to at least 3 others during their lifetime. The next time that scenario begins I will put myself first and interrupt to ask this question:
‘Does it have a happy ending?’
What? Does it have a happy ending? What does that mean?
It means, does the loved one spend their final days in comfort and peace, knowing their life had meaning, that they are loved and will be remembered? Does the family not fall apart? Does the person they are talking about not suffer grief, heartache, and loss?
Those are the stories I want to hear. That’s how I want to be helped. And this is precisely why I founded Caregiven.
It is my hope that you never need to ask this question. Instead, that colleague, fringe friend, neighbor or peripheral family member follows their offer to help by referring something useful and supportive that you truly need, the Caregiven app.
Guidance and solutions are what we need, not anecdotes and sympathy. Those who default to these aren’t truly able to support you in the way you need and deserve to be supported. Keep that in mind when you read my next blog which begins the discussion of caregiving roles and how to engage the best people during this difficult time.