How to Show you Care

Four Suggestions on Caring for Others in Crisis

When my Uncle Pete was sick with brain cancer in the early 90’s, I was scared to see him. I was not sure who he would be. I knew he would not be the same. I didn’t want him to see the response on my face that told him I knew he was different. I didn’t want to do the wrong thing. I didn’t want to cause harm.

When my friend was involved in a climbing accident where one person died. Again, I was uncertain how to be in that relationship. Should I make myself scarce or show up every day? Or somewhere in between. I baked cookies.

When my partner was in a climbing accident recently, I had the first-hand experience of what it is like to be on the receiving end of others generosity with time, food, and skills.

Some dropped everything in their lives to tend to ours – showing up at the trauma hospital, flying – or offering to fly across the country, making us food, building wheel chair ramps and moving computers, and sitting with me as I cried. Others were afraid to visit – these were mostly children – who struggled to see him transformed from an active, competent athlete to a guy in a hospital bed with a neck brace. They echo what most adults feel but don’t say.

It is hard to see real time the fragility of this human body. Hard to acknowledge we can break.

As a caring human, wanting to do the right thing, I am writing this to all the other caring humans out there as a short guide on how to show you care. As I get older the likelihood of these incidents happening more frequently – cancer, accidents, deaths – is high. Here are my suggestions on how to respond in these situations. Feel free to add yours in the comments section.

  1. Let the person know you know they are laid up.
    • The cards to my partner, the emails, letters, and texts are all welcome. They extend the love in perpetuity!
    • These days, at least for the caregiver, phone calls are tough to make or answer – time is condensed between care for the injured, kids, dog, and oh yeah, a bit of self-care!
    • Phone calls for the injured are welcome depending on their situation – cancer, maybe not, brain injury probably not, but just laid up with two broken legs – a phone call is just the thing to cheer him up.
    • And call or text more than once – continued care is needed even when the immediate trauma is over.
    • Check out this Parker Palmer article on being present for people.
  2. Ask before you bring or send food.
    • Food is how people show their love. Food is amazing. We have had some delicious food.
    • Call, text, or email to see if food or shopping is needed before you bring or send food. Sometimes, especially at first, I found myself managing the beautiful food arriving from our community. With no time, I felt overwhelmed. I was appreciative, but had to work overtime to eat the food that arrived before it went bad!
    • A friend set up a Meal Train. That was a beautiful way to manage food without extra work.
    • Lastly, if you bring food, build into your plan a way to pick up your dishes later!
  3. Come visit.
    • If you get turned away at the door, do not take it personally. Just come.
    • People need you at these times. They do not know they need you, but they do. Maybe not at this moment, but at some point. AND they will likely not reach out or know the moment when they need you most. They are busy and barely know what they need as they have had no time for self-care!
    • Some of the best friendships are formed with the people that just show up – and do not take it personally if you are shown the door.
  4. Don”t ask what they need. They do not know.
    • As the caregiver, people keep asking me what I need. I do not know sometimes, and  it is uncomfortable to ask as I am getting so much help. Just jump in and do dishes, or mow the lawn, or weed the garden, or be a sounding board for me to vent to, or listen as I talk of all my “shoulds” and reality check with me what are legitimate things I need to do and what I can let go of.
    • Take the kids (or dog…) or caregiver on adventures. Or at least offer. Our kids have had some pretty cool adventures since the accident. And again, do not be offended if they do not go. They sometimes want to stick around and be together as a family.

Do you have anything to add? I invite YOUR perspective for a change. What have you found that worked for you in these times? We all have wisdom to share.

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The Cry of the Wild

In returning to my village of people who grew up around me like a fairy ring, I am filled with a settled knowing. I feel my feet here. My place at this table is worn and comfortable. They know who I am, or who I have been.

The work I do flourishes as if I have been let loose on a spring field of newly emerging grasses after a long winter of dirt and hay.

It was not a long winter, it was a long summer. A summer of mountain play, sleeping more nights under the stars than under a roof.

The who I am out there is more present to the building thunder clouds. More aware of the phase of the moon. More spacious mimicking the milky way. Playful like the bunny. I see more, terrain, like the hawk.

The who I am out there, in the wild, can play the role of who I am in the village, it is a well-practiced role. Yet, when I play it, fall into it and become it, I lose something – wild.

I want to cry out like a lion, taken from the wild to the zoo. Something is dying in me. Can’t you see it?

But I don’t want to scare the city dwellers and disrupt the unspoken code of conduct. The one I signed before I knew what I was doing.

The glitz of the city was so bright I could not read the words and at that point I did not care. I wanted to move away from the drawl of the country, the old ways, the unrefined quiet that filled the days.

But now I want to go back and study the contract. To see my signature on the paper – in blood. The blood of lost time, the blood of serving my people in all the ways I knew.

I stayed to belong to something I thought was better than me. I thought if I could blend into them, into that, then I would have arrived.

Yet, witnessing the loss of the wild in my own body is crushing. I no longer see the moon each night, nor the stars. The ambient light of the city brighter than the milky way. The noise of the cars louder than the crickets.

There is something so full in the sound of the crickets. Something so hollow in the sound of the cars.

But now that I am in love with myself, and know I belong the greater gift of life on the planet, I cannot sacrifice the wild in me to be in the city.  I am breaking the contract.

 

Yet, I chose and still choose this human place of settlement that has let itself go a bit. too. far.

As time passes, and I settle more into my role, my village, I meditate to feel the spaciousness of the wild. To be able to bring that space to my people is the goal.

Would I change the years that have given me my love and my offspring? No.

Would I change the place that has given me my friends and memories? No.

Well then maybe I am simply building the capacity to hold both the city and the wild. And in holding both I cannot escape the suffering and the pain of being where I am and longing to be somewhere else.

I cannot stop feeling the cries all around me of the wild dying and the people not noticing they are bleeding from signing in blood. From going too far. From building a culture that must die to one thing to belong to another.