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  • Writer's picture Gabrielle Elise Jimenez

"The Checklist"

Gabby,

I have a friend who was recently given a pretty scary diagnosis. We are all trying to stay positive and hopeful, but we also feel uncertain, and sometimes even frustrated and angry because we can’t help her, and even though we try, she refuses and says she doesn’t need anything. She is my best friend, but I feel like she has been pulling away from me, from all of us. I have tried everything; I text her every day, I leave gifts and cards on her front porch, and I have rallied everyone I know to come together for her because she is basically alone. I don’t know how to help her, what else can I do? What can we do for her as her friend group and neighborhood community?

 

Dear …

My whole life I have been a “fixer,” I want to do whatever I can to make sure things are easier or less stressful for others and working in end-of-life care elevated that. I feel compelled to fix people, but I have learned that I can’t. It is not my job. I have also learned that it is not always as helpful as I think it would be.

 

One very important lesson I have learned from people navigating an illness that could very easily become terminal, is that they tend to worry about the people who love them, and when we put our feelings on them, when we tell them how hard this is for us, or when we project what we would want or need on to them, in many ways they feel burdened and will pull away.

 

Of course we have a reaction to what they are going through.

Of course we want to help them.

Of course we want to be there in any way we possibly can.

But most of the time, what they really need is for us to be the ones to step back a bit, to give them some space to take it all in and wait until they reach out… which most of the time they will. The last thing we want to do is add to what they are already dealing with by smothering and overwhelming them… and yes, despite our best intentions, that is what it feels like.

 

It is not personal. You didn’t do anything wrong. Your friend probably has so much on her plate right now that it is easier to shut everyone out than to engage right now.

 

Some advice that might be helpful for anyone going through this:

 

This news can often start the feelings of anticipatory grief for those who love and care for the person diagnosed. We can’t help but start preparing for them to die, this is very normal. I recommend you getting some support from a professional therapist who specializes in grief. You can also reach out to your local hospice and ask about their grief services, or references that might be helpful. Most health insurances also offer therapy, and even if only a few sessions, it is a healthy thing for you to do for yourself. Your person needs you to be strong, so they do not have to worry about you as well as everything else they have going on.

 

When we overwhelm someone with constant phone calls, texts, cards, gifts, food, etc… it can feel like they have lost their identity… they stop being the person, the human, the friend, and are instead the sick person who might be dying. Be the person that reminds them they are still alive.

 

Instead of every single day, perhaps check in every few days. Leave a text message that says, “I am thinking about you.” You can also invite them for a walk, or to get food, or see a movie. You can also ask them how often they would like a check-in.

 

If they are going to start treatment, you can offer to drive them to appointments, or bring meals to have ready when they return.

 

If they have a dog, you can offer to walk it.

 

If they have children, you can offer to help with getting them to school or taking them to have playdates with friends.

 

You might also want to pull some of the friends together to stay in touch, but also to help support one another. By doing this you might be able take some of the responsibility off your friend to have to update everyone, and do the daily check-ins, etc.

 

I recently had a friend tell me that she has cancer, and she too is alone. I made her a checklist of all the things I could do for her, with little boxes next to each one, and asked her to mark the boxes of the things she would like help with. Out of twenty-seven things, she marked five and all of them were fun things like “tell me a joke and make me laugh,” “watch reality tv shows with me,” “go out for junk food,” and the one I think she liked best, “spend all day in bed, in our jammies, and talk about all of our favorite memories,” (she marked it three times.)

 

How can you help someone who has been given a diagnosis, who is navigating an illness, or who is dying? Be there for them, in whatever way they might need. Don’t take it personally if they don’t respond right away, or if they step back a bit. Give them options and a gentle reminder that you are there and be the person in their life who doesn’t keep reminding them they are sick.

 

They know you love them. They love you too. But they are dealing with a lot, and it can be very overwhelming… the last thing they need is to worry about you and how you are dealing with this as well.

 

Sending love to all who are going through this right now… you are not alone.

 

xo

Gabby




 

 

 

One very important

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