The Reluctant Caregiver: why I found it hard to give back
Kelly Banks is the Co-founder of Support Crew, along with her good buddy Janine Williams.
Kelly shares her recent experience with her desire to return the favour and support her neighbour who lost her beloved mother whilst being overwhelmed with the universal fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.
Today was a particularly sad day as I attended a funeral to support our lovely neighbours who lost their mother who passed away quite suddenly.
It was important for me to be there to support this wonderful family for many reasons. They are extraordinary nice people and losing a close family member is hard. So it was important for me to be there to support them. The other reason was because they have been so incredibly supportive to Randal and I during his cancer journey – providing many wonderful meals during those times that we needed them the most. So I felt like this was my opportunity to give back.
So why was it so hard for me to support them?
Despite my very best intentions to want to support the family, I became quite aware of an uncomfortableness that was sitting with me. And I’m almost embarrassed to share this with you, but I think it’s important, because it’s speak to two major empathy blocks that can prevent us from fully supporting someone who needs us.
The fear of doing or saying the wrong thing
I felt uncomfortable because our lovely neighbours are of a different nationality and culture to me, and I’m unfamiliar with their beliefs, customs and etiquette when it comes to dealing with the passing of a loved one. I found myself terrified that I might say the wrong thing, wear the wrong clothing, that I might do something that was taboo, and that I might not know what to do and that I might look silly.
With the fear of doing the wrong thing – we feel the pressure to make the situation better for the other person with the perfect gesture and if we fail, we fair that we’ll ruin the relationship, or just embarrass ourselves.
As most of the funeral service that I attended today was in another language, I was worried that I wouldn’t know what to do to show my support and love in the right way, and that I wouldn’t be able to show my respects by participating in the prayers and usual customs.
With the fear of saying the wrong thing – we feel the pressure to know what to say to comfort the person and to not make them feel any worse.
I noticed myself berating myself as I said to my neighbour ‘how are you doing?’ and then I thought to myself ‘what a stupid thing to say. How do you think she’s doing?! Now all she’s going to think about is how sad she feels.’
It was funny watching myself in these moments, because one of the most interesting things that I’ve learnt with my journey with Randal, and also with being in the help business – is that when people are frightened – to say or do the wrong thing – that they can become paralysed and they can do nothing. And I totally get that because I was there today.
What we need to remember
The reality was, that the enormity of my gesture to attend the funeral was far greater than the reality of my uncomfortableness.
And the even bigger reality is, that the discomfort of my uncomfortableness was nothing of the pain that my neighbour was experiencing through losing her beloved mother.
And the biggest thing I learnt, was that sometimes, you have to sacrifice your own uncomfortableness, for the comfort that it provides someone else. Because that’s far far more important. And that reaching out and fumbling through is far better than not reaching out at all.