Visiting with Her
One of the most valuable things we can do to heal one another is listen to each other’s stories.
We met with her in a local restaurant. Her husband’s cancer is progressing, and lately, noticeably faster. He is dying. She needed to talk. She offered to buy us tea on that cold winter’s afternoon. It warmed us as we visited with her. But even more, we were warmed by her spirit and the attitude she held. We were intent on her story, on her struggles, on her pain, unmindful of the people coming and going around us. For 90 minutes the three of us sat and we listened to her. We laughed at times. She shared warm and powerful memories. She talked about how hard it is to be a caregiver for someone you love, especially when they may be in the last weeks of their life.
Her story was like so many others we’ve heard; the themes of fatigue, frustration and fear uniting those on similar journeys. Often, the caregivers feel forgotten, overlooked. Often, few people ask them how they are doing, how they are feeling, and what they might need. Many friends will say,
Call if you need anything…
But she needs them to call her.
What she needed was someone to listen, someone to tell her story to and that’s what we could offer.
She spoke of what it’s like as each day she sees signs of her husband, of more than 40 years, growing ever weaker. She talked about what it will be like once he is gone. She pondered some of the questions confronting her in the months to come – Will she continue to live where she does now? Will her aging parents need more of her help? She spoke wistfully of things she and her husband will never do together again – sitting on the beach, visiting their daughter and grandchildren down south, going to church.
We were very proud of her for taking the initiative to meet with us, that she knew how important it is to care for herself. So often, caregivers get caught in the trap of thinking that their needs aren’t essential or that it would be selfish to take time to step back or to nourish her soul. But she realizes, and we affirmed it, that she can be of little good to her husband if she is not in a place of health herself.
She spoke of his funeral arrangements and how he has planned for his service, helping to take the burden off of her. She talked about his acceptance of death and how the peace he has about it is giving her strength and peace and acceptance, too.
She shared about those neighbors and friends who have followed through with promises to help, how some have taken the initiative to bring them a meal, to stop over for a visit, to actually pray with her instead of just saying they would, to run an errand or to sit with her husband so that she could take a few moments out of the house.
We tried to reassure her that her feelings, her fears, are important and do matter. We tried to reassure her that everything she is feeling is entirely common and normal. We simply tried to be present with her, to walk a few steps with her on this truly difficult journey and to remind her that she truly is not alone.
Visiting with her was a life-giving afternoon for us. We hope that it was for her too. Hearing her story, listening to those parts of her story that she rarely is able to share with others, knowing that she trusts us with it, is a true privilege.
Maybe in our listening and in her telling she was able to find some sense of the strength, comfort, solace, healing and peace that she needs and seeks.