One of the most common questions I get asked is some variant of “what can I do for you?” or “how can I help?” or “what do you need?” It’s a common response to finding out someone is in distress, when the situation is too large to process at once. It’s a natural instinct, to want to exert some kind of control over a situation that makes you powerless. Okay, it sucks that you have a terminal disease, what tiny little piece can I work at to make it suck a little less? There must be SOMETHING. Anything.
You know the absolute best thing you can do, for anyone going through A Big Deal?
Take care of their caregiver.
The Big Deal sucks for the person who is center circle, no question. But it ALSO sucks for the people around them – as Dr. Doug McClure told me, “You’ll find it’s not that YOU have been diagnosed, WE have been diagnosed.” The caregiver is responsible for keeping everything together when the diagnosed no longer can. They do everything from making/getting to doctor visits to cleaning house to coordinating visits to making sure they’re wearing clean socks. Lifting spirits and lifting patients. Finding hope and finding the damn car keys.
Dying sucks, and there’s a lot of planning and work and Massive Introspective Soul Searching ™ involved, but comparatively? My job is easy. I just gotta die. Whether I work at it or not, the end for me is the same. I just have to let it happen. Danielle, though, she has to plan and prep and care and organize and clean and all the things I can’t, from here on out. It’s a really big deal in its own right. Later on in our joyful journey of doom, if I just let things happen without working at it, I’m pretty much where I was either way. If she lets things happen without working at it? I won’t eat. She worries about keeping my house clean, making sure I’m not expending too much energy, researches places to live, and is pretty much an unpaid personal assistant.
…The woman cleaned up cat poop this weekend to spare me having to spend a spoon to do so. CAT POOP. THAT IS LOVE, PEOPLE. She’s signed on to scoop cat boxes for NOT EVEN HER CAT.
It’s a tough job but it doesn’t have to be thankless. I’ve done thankless jobs, and they’re soul-draining. I’ve done really shitty jobs happily, because I was appreciated for it. It’s amazing how far a thank you goes. An honest, sincere word of thanks. A “hey, I know this thing took up all your weekends for a month and I’m sorry I can’t pay you for it, but let me take you to lunch at least”. Taking a second out of your life to say “I appreciate the hell out of what you’re doing.”
I’ve said it before: it is fucking AMAZING how helpful it is, to simply have someone just acknowledge what you’re doing is hard.
So if you want to do something for me? Do something for Danielle. Buy her a freakin’ Jamba Juice or something. Ask her how you can help share her burden. She needs people to care for her. Someone to give her a break sometimes. And mostly? People to recognize that what she is doing is HARD. She is shifting her entire life to be there for me. People need to appreciate and acknowledge that sacrifice. I appreciate the ever loving SHIT out of her, and it will be extremely helpful to me if others do, too.