Crumbling Support

12 Aug

Dear LetterBalm: I’m the sort of person people lean on when they need help. Serious illnesses, aging parents, tragic accidents, kids in trouble, legal problems – all my adult life, I’ve been there to listen, pitch in, offer advice and more. My family and friends know they can rely on me in a crisis, and I’m glad to do it. Well, now I need help. My husband was recently stricken with a degenerative condition requiring long-term extensive care. There’s no cure, and our family life will be seriously disrupted. I may have to quit my job to care for him because we can’t afford home nursing. But when I try to talk about it, people get uncomfortable, they change the subject or jump in about their problems. I’m sad and anxious, and I just need a sympathetic ear, but nobody wants to listen.

–Crying All Alone

Ms. L.B. is sorry you’re facing a serious health challenge at home. It’s certainly stressful and so sad to know you will witness the painful decline of your best beloved. It’s doubly stressful when close friends and family aren’t there for you, even just to listen and offer a shoulder to cry on. Maybe they’re put off by what they perceive as weakness in you, someone they’ve always known as strong and competent. They don’t know what to do when they see you out of your customary control. Certainly, you can go online for support and for advice on keeping your balance while being a full-time caregiver. You can also seek private counseling and ask your husband’s doctor for a support group for families dealing with his illness. Meanwhile, sit down alone with the relative and/or friend you feel will understand best and say something. You want them to spread your message to others:

Relative/Friend, I need you to listen carefully now because I need your help. I’m going through a really rough time. Adam’s illness has thrown me for a loop. It means a huge change for us. I’m so used to helping others and taking charge that I don’t know how to cope when I reach out and nobody is there. I need sympathetic ears and strong shoulders to cry on right now. I know that makes people uncomfortable because they’re used to seeing me as a person who looks like she doesn’t need anybody’s help. Please, can you spread the word that I could use a little understanding now, even if it’s just to listen?

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