My friend Matt’s dad died a few months ago.
Never one for small talk or social niceties, Matt begrudgingly notified several co-workers of his fathers’ passing to let them know why he’d be out of the office for a few days.
One co-worker emailed back the patented responses of “I’m very sorry for your loss” and “Let me know if you need anything.”
Capitalizing on his co-worker’s sweepingly broad offer of generosity in his time of need, Matt replied, “Ok…I actually do need something you could help me with.”
When his friend replied his willingness to accommodate Matt with, “Anything….anything at all“, Matt replied, “Ok…..I’d like you to give me your first-born son.”
Matt is now the proud father of a 12-year-old boy named Solo Jones.
Be careful what you offer, folks.
Some of you may have heard of “chemo” brain. If not, it’s a reaction that many people have when they’re receiving chemo that leads them to be forgetful, emotional, and just plain brain-hazy.
I’m not sure if there’s an actual chemical reaction in the body that causes this common cognitive fog.
It’s probably a combination of the effects of the meds, the physical drag of traveling to the clinic on a daily basis to sit in a chair and watch an opaque bag of toxic milk drip into your veins and the emotional toll a cancer diagnosis has on your soul.
I think there’s a lesser-known impact on caregivers’ noggins….since I’m kind of experiencing it right now, I can’t come up with a catchy-cool term(if you can think of one, post below)so I’m just going to call it plain old “caregiver brain.”
For me, at least, this is what plain-old caregiver brain feels like:
The thoughts in my mind are constantly popping their intrusive heads out of their grey-mattered holes.
It’s like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole; my attention, my focus is the mallet.
“There—in the far left corner–“SWEEP FLOORS” shoots up and fixes its gaze in my direction. As soon as I make a move to attack, it shoots back underground. As I was shifting to the far left, “WASH CLOTHES” popped up in the front right corner. I double back to attack and it dodges below as well.
Try as I might, I simply can’t keep up.”
My cranium is so conditioned to default to crisis mode that I can only focus on essential thoughts like “Be back in time for Dawn’s visit”, “Set alarm for 6 tomorrow”, “Get forms for taxes”.
The unessential thoughts of swept floors and clean clothes and sparkling sinks bob up and down and out of their mole holes, undone and unwhacked.
So when people say to me(in their infinite goodness and kindness), “Let me know if you need anything”, I often vacantly smile, nod, say “Ok, thanks” and never give it another thought. It’s not that I’m being ungrateful or that I’m offended by the implication that there’s something I’m not able to provide for my family. Trust me, I ain’t too proud to beg.
The main reason I(and I’m assuming many people in my position) never take people up on their offer is that the offer places the responsibility of actually thinking of something I need on me.
I don’t need no more mole holes to worry about.
And I’m tired of thinking.
So here’s the caregiver conundrum: All caregivers are overwhelmed.
We all could use help.
We have people in our lives drooling to do something to lift our load, if only a little.
But we’re often too overwhelmed to focus in on what people could actually do to put those vague offers of “ANYTHING” into action.
So nothing happens.
So what can happen to ensure that “nothing happens” doesn’t happen you may ask? (Huh?)
My suggestion is, “Don’t Ask, Do Tell.“
Tell the family what you’re willing/able to do for them. Give specifics. Be concrete.
Make assumptions about what they might need. I know, I know….. you should never assume because of that whole ass and u and me thing, but honestly, who gives a shit in this situation?!?!
Make an ass of yourself…I mean…. you won’t make an ass of yourself, because like I said, all caregivers are so accustomed to catering to others that we would welcome being on the receiving end for once.
But what’s the worse that can happen? You leave a chicken pot pie on someone’s front porch and the family is so offended by it that they throw in back in your face, all Soupy Sales style?
Again, who gives a shit in this situation?!
And again, the odds of that happening are like 44 trillion to 1.
Think of what you would like to help with and give a concrete offer.
Tell a family you’ll be making them a meal this weekend.
Give them an option of a tray of lasagna or a crock of split pea soup.
Give them a day and time you can drop it off or offer to leave it on their front porch.
They’ll probably say, “Oh, I don’t want you to go through all that trouble” or “You’ve got a lot on your plate, too” or some sanctimonious martyr bullshit like that.
Wanna know a secret?
They’re lying; they’re good at that.
They lie when they tell you, “Everything’s going pretty well” or “We’re just taking this one day at a time” or “S/he’s a fighter. There’s no doubt in my mind S/he’s gonna beat this thing.”
These are the futile phrases for which caregivers should probably hold a funeral.
Don’t believe them.
Remain steadfast and layer that lasagna anyway; split them peas, boil that hambone and soup it all up. Don’t take no for an answer.
The family will appreciate it, even if they say they don’t need it.
They will be thankful you took control.
They will be thankful you thought of them.
They will be thankful they didn’t have to think.
My next post will include a list of hopefully helpful suggestions on the needs of caregivers and families going through a rough time.
If you have any suggestions, please post them.