Caregiver: What’s YOUR Sign?

Take a moment to 'see' the invisible signs the people around you might be holding up.

Take a moment to ‘see’ the invisible signs the people around you might be holding up.

Lined up on the bleachers watching our daughters play basketball we exchanged sporadic chatty remarks with our pastor and his wife seated in front of us. During a break in the game, while checking email on his phone, my husband murmured to me the status of a cancer-fighting friend. The pastor overheard and asked if it was someone he knew. In the ensuing conversation regarding chemo and neuropathy I mentioned that Andrew had struggled with that same thing. I blinked back tears of empathy.

My stomach gave a funny little lurch as our pastor’s mouth dropped open and he said, “Wait a minute. What did you say?” I repeated my comment and he said, “WHO had cancer?” while his eyes darted to the strong-looking young man beside me, busy cheering for his sister. My answer of “Andrew” just did not match the picture that our pastor had of our boy.

It gave me a weird feeling. How could he not know? Then I reviewed our conversations and remembered that we try to not talk about it all the time because that’s just, well, obnoxious. Someone had ‘lovingly’ pointed out during Andrew’s second year of treatment that we shouldn’t bring up the ‘C’ word too often as people tired of hearing about it.

But our pastor should know. Right? I giggle to myself as I write that. What a stupid sentiment! How could ANY ONE know, if I haven’t told them? We moved across the country just over a year ago and have a whole new set of people with whom we attend church, work and interact on a daily basis.

My assumption that my relapses into the world of PTSD symptoms would be glaringly obvious to everyone is laughable. Who could imagine I function with lack of sleep, poor memory and a different personality (at times)? How could they know I have a blog and reams more stories to tell, and obsess over cancer-fighting friends and their treatment with an unhealthy amount of knowledge.

How could anyone know there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about our long journey? Does anyone realize that we’re still seeking therapy for muscle groups rendered weak six years ago? Who could sense that the word “cancer” actually makes my stomach churn a bit? Could anyone who didn’t know me before possibly see that I’m not quite as outgoing as I used to be, but at the same time am more likely to blurt an honest opinion? Can’t everyone track my amazing spiritual growth and the fact that while I developed control issues I didn’t have before, I also have a bigger faith in God’s ultimate plans than I could have ever fathomed?

Isn’t it astonishing that people here do not look at me and see “Cancer Caregiver: complete with scars” printed on my forehead? Maybe if I snapped a selfie of me holding a recovering caregiver’s sign and posted it on Facebook with a plea for support through ‘likes’, people would get the idea that I struggle.

Ah—but isn’t it amazing that I miss other struggling people’s ‘signs’ as well?

  • “Worn-out-mom”
  • “Rehabilitating accident victim”
  • “Out-of-work salesman”
  • “My husband has Alzheimer’s—he thinks I’m his cleaning lady”

Maybe our struggles should automatically be made into signs so that others can see and help us with our burdens.

Or maybe….

Maybe we should just automatically help each other, whether we have knowledge of burdens or not.

This is not a rant against those who aren’t telepathic enough to know I’m a recovering caregiver with leftover issues from an intense 3 ½ year treatment protocol and all of its after-effects. I simply want to gently remind us (myself included) that we all carry signs—but too often they’re invisible.

We need to assume that each person might have a sign—something they need help with, something they need recognition for, or something that just makes them feel vulnerable. We don’t always need to know what the sign says—let’s just remember it might be there. Take the time to lend a sympathetic ear; to encourage and to uplift each person that you meet. Who knows, you might just save them the embarrassment of taking a selfie and posting it on Facebook.