There are lots of hard subjects when it comes to illness and death. I could make the title a twelve part series without blinking. One of the hardest is “caring enough” without “caring too much”, using the verb form of the word.
From watching others and my journey, when there is a diagnosis or an onset, people pour out of the woodwork with compassion and assistance. Cards, flowers, food, check ins, they get overwhelming and maybe even annoying. It’s wonderful to hear the words of love and appreciation, but at some point it becomes exhausting. Different people are going to need different levels of interference and assistance when they are ill.
When Grandma F went into a nursing home, I was less than 30 with two children under two years old. I still feel the fury I had for people she cared for, who called her every day for support and love, who pronounced their undying dedication. She needed them and they did not reciprocate. Of course they didn’t. It was not malicious, I see now, but a statement on their emotional stability. It certainly was not fair! Grandma would have loved calls and visits, but who teaches people to have a one sided conversation, or to balance the dynamics of love when they are feeling their own sadness and loss?
Dad is still in a Memory Care facility. When he entered, there were people that he recognized. He was conversational. His wife Jan has always been gifted at “being there” for people, and she is still by his side when he does not speak coherently or recognize any of us. Dad was also a huge support to many. And they were unable to support him, even in the best of his difficult moments.
There are a couple of people in my life that endure Chronic Fatigue, which spreads out into a vast variety of pain. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be in that position, or to have the role of partner/caregiver. But how do we support the emotional needs of the people behind the pain?
I’ve done a pretty thorough job of shifting this topic away from myself, but being in the depths of a chemo cycle, this is frightening. I can see that emotional needs and distress cut deeply into those in the caregiving roles. I can see that the people we have loved and who have loved us move away rather than toward the situation. I can see the helplessness from both sides of the coin.
Magic. I wish there was a magic wand and an instant remedy. No one should lose themselves forever in a life overwhelmed by care for another. Yet, I feel like we need to accept some responsibility for loving the people around us, even in the worst of circumstances. Balance, again. If you can reach out to an aunt or friend, send a note, have a five minute text conversation, drop off a muffin… then do it again next week and the next and the next, you may be surprised at how your heart can grow. Like the classic tale of the Grinch, like Tonglen meditation, the goal of life is experiencing an enormous heart, Universal Love.