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Goats, gripes, and grasping for greatness
A small piece of advice when you don't know what do to for someone who is sick 
25th-Mar-2011 10:29 am
Summer
Greetings from SJC airport. I'm heading home today. I'm really tired, and emotionally drained, but pleased nonetheless. Dad will live to fight another day, and more than that, will want to continue the fight. And so we march doggedly along.

I was just on the phone with a co-worker whose sister-in-law just got diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. He confessed that he has no idea what to do to help her. He doesn't live with her, and isn't all that close to her, but the general family unit is pretty tight, so he expects he will be seeing a lot of her. I told him that the worst thing he can do is ask her if she wants "anything." The best thing he can do is offer a specific something that he is already getting/doing.

For example, last night, Mom asked Dad what he wanted for dinner. He didn't know. He was still reeling from pain medication, was sleepy and sore, and just didn't have a clue. So I jumped in and said that I was going to have meatballs (porcupine balls) and zucchini for dinner, and did Dad want some meatballs? Now, I'm no fool. Meatballs are one of Dad's favorite meals; they are bland and yummy and easy on the tummy. So of course Dad perked up and said yes, meatballs sounded fine. He ate a HUGE plate of meatballs and zucchini, and was happy to do so.

Rather than ask someone who is sick and tired and sore to try to create a new idea out of thin air, give that person something to react against. Don't ask essay questions, but aim for yes-or-no questions with the implication that it's no trouble at all, you're doing it anyway. "Hey, I'm having meatballs for dinner. Do you want any?" Yes, I do want meatballs [when you fix them for yourself]. "Do you want another cup of tea with dinner?" (But *NOT* "What do you want to drink?")

Be sure that there is no implied guilt with the answer, either way. That's where the "you're doing it anyway" part comes into play. That way, you can build up some trust and credibility with your exchange with that person. And accept "no" as easily as "yes" so that the exchange starts and stays natural and reasonable. Don't badger the person. You're just happening to offer, not going out of your way to spend energy. It's the emotional equivalent of "While I'm up, can I get you anything?" without the dreadful trap of making the hurt/sick person fill in that anything blank. You've done all of the hard thinking work. The other person can just react as the mood of the moment strikes. You are giving them easy comfort, and making a role for yourself that is valued for that very ease that you are giving to them.

Do you see my meaning here?

I originally posted this as a locked post, but realized that this is the kind of information that I want everyone to have. Please understand that your mileage may vary, but so far, this has been something that has really, really helped with the various major illnesses in my family.
Comments 
25th-Mar-2011 05:43 pm (UTC) - Yes. So much yes.
Can I print this out and mail it to people? Maybe post it in hospitals and funeral homes?

ETA: Maybe needless to say, but my endorsement of this goes equally as protocol for the grieving.

Edited at 2011-03-25 06:01 pm (UTC)
25th-Mar-2011 10:50 pm (UTC) - Re: Yes. So much yes.
Yes, you are welcome to it. I unlocked the post so that you can crosspost it if you want to do that, as well.
(Deleted comment)
25th-Mar-2011 10:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Mom and Dad are great role models, and we've had an unfortunate amount of practice as a family.
25th-Mar-2011 05:53 pm (UTC)
I envy your common sense, and I will keep this advice in mind.
25th-Mar-2011 10:57 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Oddly, my family runs long on the common sense when the shit hits the fan. We can be a basket of fruitcake when it comes to the day-to-day, but give us a car wreck or a parent-on-chemo and we are the most reasonable and rational people you've ever seen.

(And Achaosofkittens can just hush now. Pbhttt.)
26th-Mar-2011 05:35 pm (UTC)
It's not just sick or grieving.

Its applicable towards anyone that has "run out of cope" about any situation: unemployment and money problems are two other common examples that are highly relevant in the current job/real estate market.

Because the real answer to "Do you want anything" is "I want a job", "I want to not be sick", "I want X to not have happened" - or put simply: "I want my problem fixed".

"Do you want anything" implies 'anything' is possible. People know that isn't true, so even the asking can feel like a taunting betrayal of some sort.

I don't know that you need to be quite so specific, (and I can easily imagine people being in a state where that gets interpreted as "Oh, I can have meatballs or _nothing at all_") but that's probably highly situational.

I wrote up a personal version of this last October, that I summed up: If you really want to make things easy on me, don't ask what I want, offer me what you're willing to give.
28th-Mar-2011 12:25 am (UTC)
Thank you. Yes, you make a lot of good points, especially in why "anything" is a poor choice of words. I appreciate your summary, as well.
28th-Mar-2011 04:02 pm (UTC)
You are brilliant.
28th-Mar-2011 04:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I don't feel that way, but I appreciate the compliment nonetheless.
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