Friday, July 06, 2007

Not What I Expected To Write

My relationship with my mother has improved since I’ve had children.

It’s like a curtain was pulled aside and I suddenly understood so much more about her, particularly her patience and creativity as a mother.

I’ve spent all these years trying to be unique, different from her, my own person.

If anyone as much as insinuated that I was like my mother they were met with my wrath.

It’s pathetic that it has taken me until now to recognize the many, many ways I am like her – and feel glad.

The self-deprecating humor? Hers.

The ability to make new people feel at ease? Hers.

The list is long.

As a mother now myself, I look back and realize what a truly good mother she has been. I will be lucky if I do even half as good of a job as she did. [Her patience is a trait I didn’t get. Damn.]

One negative trait we share is relative incompetence when it comes to true illness.

Both my mother and I are fine playing nurse to children suffering from a cold or a skinned knee, but both of us shift nervously in a hospital room.

I don’t think either of us knows exactly what to do or what to offer friends, family – or anyone for that matter – that is really sick.

I’ll speak for myself and be brutally honest.

I feel uncomfortable and out of control around real illness.

I have been so fortunate to have had very limited exposure to the very sick and therefore have little experience with it.

When faced with a real health crisis, I don’t know what would be helpful for me to do or say.

I am an action oriented person. I need to know what to DO.

My friend Gwen nearly died when her daughter was born prematurely. The baby was so little…

Gwen had been very sick for more than a week before being admitted to the hospital so their house was a wreck and the nursery wasn’t put together at all when the hospital told Gwen’s husband that he would have to take the baby home on his own.

In this case, I organized a team of friends to clean their house and set up the nursery. I also served as a communications coordinator of sorts for her friends and family, sending out e-mail updates about her health.

When I visited her in the hospital, I bit my nails and looked at the floor.

I don’t always intuit what people might be thinking or catch on to subtle signals.

I sometimes wish that when friends or family were sick they would wake up each morning and dictate a list.

Daily List: Things I would like people to do for me or say to me today...

At least then I could feel helpful.

I know, I know. It’s not about ME, but what good does it do for me to shift from foot to foot and stammer?

My friend Becca’s husband was diagnosed with Leukemia about two years ago. At the time, their eldest daughter was three and their youngest was five months old.

Becca’s brother lives in town and he organized an amazing on-line calendar where everyone in her community could sign up to cook and deliver meals, help with household chores, hold and rock the baby, visit her husband in the hospital, loan various items they needed during his post-chemo periods at home and even donate money.

It made everyone in her community feel part of the support team, each of us doing a part of a much greater whole.

But what about people just outside of my immediate community?

There’s a woman with children in The Mayor & The Rooster’s daycare whose husband has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. They have three children under the age of five, she is a school teacher and her husband is going to die.

WhyMommy from Toddler Planet recently found out that she has a rare form of breast cancer. She’s still nursing her five month old. This breaks my heart and yet, I am paralyzed.

Schmutzie has cervical cancer.

I would love to be helpful, but I don’t know what to say, much less what to do.

How do I rise up and properly support those who need it in times like these?

In February my grandfather, my Ady, passed away. My mother was at his side in the hospital.

I haven't talked with her about what that was like in the context of how she's historically felt about hospitals and sickness.

I do know that my Granny was grateful to have her there.

Perhaps I can be even more like my mother.


canape said...

J, you are already doing it. Visiting WM at Toddler Planet, keeping her in your thoughts, leaving a comment - those are the things you do.

It doesn't take one person doing it all, it takes all of us doing the little things.

Robin said...

Sounds like you're doing okay to me. The comfort level increases with exposure, I think.

Schmutzie said...

This is the first place I have had the opportunity to say this, and it feels fabulous: I don't have cervical cancer; I HAD cervical cancer until Tuesday.

I feel like bowing or something.

Don't worry about not knowing what to say, because nobody does. Everyone told me that they didn't know what to say to me when they found out about the cancer, and I assured them that neither did I. Your generous doings and your presence are truly enough.

Lawyer Mama said...

I have the same problem. I never know what to say in the Blogosphere other than the tried and true "I'm thinking of you." In the real world it's even harder. The 43 year old husband of a co-worker just died from a heart attack on Father's Day. They have 2 little girls, ages 10 & 6. I feel so incompetent when I say "I'm sorry" and stand there like a fool.

Bon said...

chills and shivers. because i feel the same helplessness, and desire to help...

but having been on the other end of bad things, i'll concur with the do all that anyone can. you don't hide and pretend there's no problem, or leave it to the person suffering to bring it up. you're always around, leaving little comments. acknowledging. supporting.

i hope your mom reads this. :)

and yay Schmutzie!

Anonymous said...

I think mostly people just want someone to listen, to be there, to be a witness to their life and what they're going through. And touch, most people appreciate touch in some form, it helps us stay connected. A joke is often appreciate as well because even when life is shit, we all like to have a laugh. Your gift is making others laugh Jess, that's a huge gift.

Natsthename said...

deb's right about your gift, so you are doing us ALL a great service by making our days brighter.

And if my kids can ever write such nice things about me one day, I'll be happy.

Patience said...

You're doing okay! We all have things we do well, and things we don't do well or shy away from. And sometimes we find the strength to do the things we don't particularly like simply because they must be done.

Magpie said...

You do great things. You're kind, you're funny. You care.

JoeinVegas said...

Hi ma! Somebody still likes you.

Jenny said...

this post hits very close to home. I love the brutal honesty. I have to believe that doing something, saying something, and making it heartfelt, is all you can do. Sometimes in situations that are so wrong, maybe there is no "right" thing. But there can be people who care and try. You sound like one of those people. For too long I let the fear of doing the wrong thing paralyze me and keep me from doing ANYTHING. That, I'm sure, is the worst response.

Sayre said...

A friend of my best friend died on the 4th, leaving behind a devastated husband and a 4-year old who may not remember her. She was funny, outgoing, and quite outspoken. What she really wanted was to laugh. It's hard to do when things are dire, but my friend made her friend laugh at least once a day - and I think that helped a lot. Sometimes it was a wry observation and other times it was something as dumb as a knock knock joke.

There's always something, but you have to be creative to come up with what it might be, sometimes.

Scribbit said...

You are being supportive by being there. And cleaning someone's house while they were in the hospital is such a thoughtful thing it certainly conveys your thoughts.

NotSoSage said...

I am a doer, too. I have a hard time expressing how I feel or sitting and keeping someone company, I want to DO.

You are a true friend, Jess, in acknowledging your strenghts and playing to them in times of need.

QT said...

You and I are on the same page, sister. Either give me a project to coordinate, or point me in the direction of what you want me to do, I will get in up to my elbows.

Visit at the hospital? Yikes!

Mimi said...

You really are an ENTJ, aren't you? I'm with Sage -- the best you can do is acknowledge who you are and play to your strengths, while remaining open to suggestion from others.

As for coping with illness and tragedy, I find that since I've become a mother I have this terrible urge to run away from everything sad, because I've turned into such a shmoopy crier. It's awful. I need to stop that. Your motherhood seems to have opened you up, and that's wonderful.

WILLIAM said...

I remember reading a comment from Eclectic (a blog friend of mine) on another blog friend of mine Gumby Susie's blog.

Susie was not well and she posted about it and Eclectic's comment was something like this. "I will stop over and sit on the couch with a book. If you need anything let me know. If not act like I am not here."

Doing something but not doing something. Just being there. I alwasy liked that comment.

Mrs. Fierce Shoes said...

This was a very poignant post. I feel your pain. Action is how I deal with illness too-not good on the standing around commiserating part.

cronznet said...

The one time I had major surgery I found visitors to be too much stimulation. Let those who handle hospitals well do the visiting that is wanted/needed. Over the years I've learned that no one thing is always right for each health crisis. My favorite "support" to date was taking my laptop and some wine every evening to a friend who was in the hospital after he shattered his leg in a biking accident. He was an internet junkie and of all his friends' computers only mine could locate the internet from his bed.
I think you're doing great and I admire your intention to do better!

urban-urchin said...

taking an honest look at yourself (which you've done) and realizing your capacity in these situations is a good start.

Often times asking what they need and saying what you said in this post is exactly what they need.


KC said...

You don't need to say anything. Being there, caring, says volumes. You are lovely, Jess, and loving. That is support.

Seattle Mamacita said...

i love what you did for Gwen... people never forget that kind of love

mothergoosemouse said...

Yes. Navigating such situations gracefully and helpfully is not my strong suit. Maybe because when I'm in need, I pull the turtle routine. I don't know what I need; how can I presume to know what others need?

Lene said...

You are doing so much just being there and showing support.

Like you, I am one that doesn't know how to respond to a crisis.

Jenifer said...

There is nothing wrong in doing or just being there...they really do count as helpful and important to someone in crisis.

I think you are offering more than you think...

Little Monkies said...

You know, sister, you give your gifts as you can. You are a wicked awesome organizer, you can pull things together like nobody's business, you bring people in to help, you see that things run smoothly. That's a huge help.

When my dad died, a legion of people from my hometown descended on our house. It was spotlessly clean, food was always available, someone always answered the phone, took flowers, explained what happened so we didn't have to.

That meant the world to our family. It was what kept us going.

That's what I'd want from you if I lived next door, or across the blogosphere. For you to leverage your gifts to help.

Love to you!

Hol&J said...

Laughter is the best medicine. It's not a cure all, but it does make us feel better for the moment. You help us all laugh. Thank you!

I know that just being there, lending a hand, or telling someone you're thinking of them helps.

At the same time, I still have difficulty knowing what to do or say in some situations.

Queen Heather said...

Wonderful post OTJ. I wish I knew what to do in those situations too.

Momish said...

I know exactly what you mean, I always feel useless and helpless to say the least. This is especially so on the internet where a hug is out of the question, yet it is the one thing I want to give more than anything.

But, it sounds to me like you are spot on with what anyone going through a hardship needs.

It is true what everyone is saying - just knowing someone cares and is sincerely effected is comforting and enough. Beyond knowing people care, there isn't much else that really can help emotionally most of the time. Doing dishes and cleaning and cooking is a HUGE practical help that means a lot, though.

Sara said...

The past 6 months since my son was diagnosed with Leukemia I realized that the best support people are just themselves. Even if being yourself means feeling insanely uncomfortable.

Who says you have to feel comfortable? Major illness is weird and doesn't look, feel or smell very good.

In my experience and now knowing other people who deal with illness everyday - it makes you really honest. Really. Really honest.

The people who shy away from the honest reality of what you're going through are the hardest to be with.

The ones that say 'holy shit this sucks' are the ones you want to keep around.

You know how to do that.

I've read your blog everyday since my son was diagnosed.

Your honesty is a ray of light.

karrie said...

I hear you. I don't like feeling out of control, and when I can't fix things, well, I feel out of control and stupid.

I guess I just try and remember that saying something kind, no matter how awkward, or even simply just being there probably helps a little.

That and if we live long enough, there is a good chance we will experience the other side of the equation--and then there will probably be an impulse to not want people to feel guilty or strange or awkward. Gah!

Jenn said...

I want to talk to you, about these words.

But I can't right now.

And I think you'll understand that.

meno said...

Really, what CAN anyone say in these situations. All i know is what NOT to say. "It's God's will." "Something good will come of this." "I guess it was your time." That sort of stuff.

But there are no right words, just being there.

carrie said...

We all have our own, unique ways of supporting our friends when they need it, and I think you're doing a fabulous job.

You have VERY lucky friends Jess, very lucky indeed.


mcewen said...

You're right on nearly every count - becoming a mother helps us understand our own mothers and it's far easier to DO something practical when there's a crisis.
Best wishes

Lotta said...

Your organization, words and compassion do so much already. What a lovely soul you are.

Anne Glamore said...

Maybe I should write a book on this topic!
Plenty of people are not comfy in hospitals, like my sister. When my mom went in for ovarian cancer, we decided I'd handle hospital duties and she'd be "fonts and flowers"- thanking people who brought meals, etc.

After she died, there's been one woman who has sent cards on days that are particularly hard, like Mothers Day and her birthday, and that is incredibly touching.

When I was going through a year- long treatment, a card meant a lot. So did a visit, or an offer to drive me to the hospital. Or taking my kids for a few hours. One friend showed up in the late afternoon with KFC and magazines and told me to get in bed; she was feeding my kids fast food and bathing them and putting them to bed.

It's amazing the wonderful things people though of.

Cards are better than phone calls-- I forgot phone calls because my brain was screwy.

Nancy said...

I'm the same way. But I am baffled by this because I'm great at picking up on signals -- I can read people really well -- and I'm normally good (or I like to think so) at making people feel better when they need reassurance/comfort/happy words. But I am abysmal when it comes to illness and bereavement. I just have no idea what to say or do.

That said, this post itself is amazing. That you can articulate how you feel, how hard it can be for you, shows such a depth of concern. You are an amazing friend.

shauna said...

What an honest post. I agree with Robin--the comfort level increases with exposure. I felt the same way (and still do), and when I found out my grandmother was dying I was beside myself at the thought of going to the hospital to watch it all happen. I was there for three days and I become more and more strengthened by what I saw--a handful of loved ones doing the same thing, walking her through to the end (even though it was awkward and uncomfortable at first). Looking back, that was one of the most spiritual and touching moments of my life. And I know that even though she couldn't say anything, she was grateful.

And Schmutzie, congratulations on being cancer-free! That's wonderful!!!

Tabba said...

I can so relate to this, Jess.

My BFF is 20 years older than me. I'm weird, I know....
Her parents are getting up there in age and have multiple health problems.
I dread the day that one of them passes (for obvious reasons). But also because I know she will come to me for support.
I haven't had to deal with death that much.
And I feel like I will fail.
Like I won't know how to be there. What to say to her.

Reading your words in this post made me feel a little better.
And maybe just by being there and doing what we can is all they really need sometimes.

Karly said...

I am exactly the same way. I don't know what to say or do and I'd rather just not be there. I rarely visit my grandfather in the nursing home because I just get so uncomfortable! Its awful, isn't it?

painted maypole said...

it sounds like you already do the best advice I ever got, which was to offer to do something specific. Don't just say "if there's anything I can do" - because then you put the onus on the other person to tell you what they need. Say "I'd like to help you out. Could i come over and clean/cook/watch the kids/mow the lawn/do your grocery shopping, etc." Of course, they may say no. You can ask if there is something else you can do.

as far as standing in the hospital room. Egad. I think there are very few people who don't feel uncomfortable. Most sick people are probably just glad you are there.

slouching mom said...

Oh, but J., no one really knows what to say. You're just being honest about it.

And you do a lot. Being action-oriented is so helpful in crises.

jen said...

oh honey. you do it just like this. and you do it by taking care of things they can't during those moments.

you do it by being you.

Whymommy said...

You said it. You did it. You are yourself, and you don't shy away from those who are going through a tough time but want honestly, desparately, just to be normal again. You let them know that you're there. And you care. And then you do it again.

Because it's often a long road to recovery.

Great post.

BOSSY said...

When it comes to illness, Bossy thinks the key is simply to Put Your Body There.

It's less about knowing the proper thing to say (you can never truly make thinks alright) so: Dig in, Clean, Deliver the Meal, and never wait for that person to tell you what they need because they can't know.

Annie said...

I came here last night to comment then on seeing you had over 40 responses I thought 'what more can I add?'

Once more, I haven't read all the comments - so sorry if I'm repeating everything.

Being there, either physically, doing something - or on the phone, by email etc is sometimes all you can do, and it is enough to mean a lot to those going through these kinds of things.

My Aunt's husband was diagnosed with the terminal brain tumour also - it is unbelievably hard to talk to someone when you both know the writing's on the wall - but he appreciated every call I made to find out how they were doing.

My friend from college was diagnosed with lukemia - she fought it for a good while, then it returned and they told her there was nothing more they could do. I visited her after her initial diagnosis - and did okay - when I heard she was terminal I couldn't face her - she died and I never got to see her - more importantly - she never saw me, all because I was too chicken and didn't know how to handle it. I let my own discomfort keep me away. This was 10 years ago and I still regret it.

Anonymous said...

Goodness. It's so difficult isn't it? When people are sick.

You are doing a wonderful job, just by being there...You are a wonderful friend.

And sometimes saying nothing is just...perfect. Because you are there and that's all that matters.

Paige said...

Canape is don't have to do it all, you just need to show a person that you care and that you're thinking about them.

Anonymous said...

I think being present in anyway is being supportive. An email, a note but to keep it up every so often. My daughter had Leukemia and nothing meant more than people just saying they cared.
This takes very little energy and can be done in any way that makes you feel comfortable. The fact is just because you haven't faced serious illness, doesn't mean you won't and these friends will be there for you, so grateful at the chance to repay kindess.

Kyla said...

I think it is just this, Jess. They just need you to care and be there. Support in the form of your presence, your words, or actions...just support and love.

Queen of the Mayhem said...

I know exactly how you feel. I am so completely paralyzed when it comes to dealing with catastrophes. A lady who I loved dearly passed away suddenly a few weeks back. She was the mother of a guy I dated for many years. There was a time when I loved her like a mother. complete fear of saying something stupid, not knowing what to say, and upsetting the freakish wife of this man kept me from paying my respect. I wish I could be better in these situations....but I'm not!

If you figure out a way...please share!

crunchy carpets said...

that is actually the big difference between my mom and me.
She is RIGHT there helping anyone who needs it.

Me...I get all uncomfortable and worry about sounding stupid and inane even when I READ about other bloggers going through tough shit.

Compassion, while I feel expressed very awkwardly by me.

amusing said...

Schmutzie, such good news! Hurray. (My sister just went through it. And I'm on watch.)

Dealing with illness -- I'm not sure if it gets more challenging the closer we get to facing our own mortality, or, if having coped with it with ourselves or a loved one, we learn that no one knows what to do and so we just do what feels right.

(I used to pass out in hospitals. Quite embarrassing.)

Burg said...

I'm a nervous wreck in hospitals, and when I'm nervous, I make jokes.. Since I'm not that funny anyway it makes for a horrible and totally inappropriate combination. I think it's probably one of the reasons I don't have many friends. :p said...

Oh, I absolutely have the same problem. My stepmother kicked me out of her house after we had an argument about how I NEVER came to the hospital to see her sick father, after his being there for months. I just didn't know what to say or do and even though I believe very reassuring things about death, it scares me. I don't like things I can't test out for myself. And I've NEVER had anyone close to me die. Not even a little bit close.

Monica said...

I haven't been here for a bit and your post came to me as an inspiration thank you.

My family is going through a bit of humbling experiences right now as well.

I can say, if you truly follow your feelings and instincts of what to do - you will simply be doing what is right.

Hugs over cyberspace. Sometimes just a hug and no words help.

Love and Light,


mamatulip said...

I never know what to say when I read about stories like this, or stories of loss, in the 'sphere. But I think even if I say "Hang in" or "Thinking of you", it's better than nothing. So it sounds to me like you're offering your support in whatever way you can, which is alright, girl.

BlondeMomBlog (Jamie) said...

I think that just the simple act of writing this post speaks volumes.

I never know what to say either, but I think offering to help and just being there is more important than trying to find the right words. Sometimes I'm not sure there are any "right" words.

Jen said...

In re: the terminal brain tumor: a friend of mine with a "terminal" brain tumor was given 6 months to live 7 years ago. He, his wife and his four kids, are still living every day to the fullest. I know that this can't be everyone's story, but I'm hoping that lightning will strike twice and be there for your friend.

Kevin Charnas said...

Sometimes just "being there" is everything.

In fact, most times it is...

Kevin Charnas said...

And, it always reminds me to work at not taking my life (or those that I love) for granted.

Aliki2006 said...

This is a beautiful, touching post. I often feel helpless, too. I agree with what others have said--I agree with it wholeheartedly--I think you offer MUCH mroe than you think.

aimee / greeblemonkey said...

What a great post, J. Really great.

Shauna said...

gzzI've found that sometimes, saying that you don't know what to say is all that is needed.