Linda was in her late seventies and dying of cancer. She lived in the home of one of her daughters while her other children rotated in to provide twenty-four-hour care. They were dedicated to caring for their mother at home to the very end. The house was a beehive of activity and Linda was swarmed with love and affection. That’s why I was so surprised when Linda privately shared, “Do you know how I feel sometimes? Sometimes I feel like I’m invisible. My kids never tell me what’s going on with them anymore. I know it’s just because they don’t’ want to upset or worry me. I know they love me; but sometimes I just feel invisible.”
I admire Linda’s children for their dedication and loving care, but at the same time, it’s sad to think that a family who love each other so much were living together all alone. If only Linda’s family could have talked with John’s family! John was another hospice patient who died of cancer. A couple weeks after John died I stopped by to say goodbye to John’s son, Marvin, and daughter-in-law, Barb. They graciously shared with me what they’d learned through taking care of John.
Marvin went first: “You need to express your feelings. Tell them you love them. Be truthful and don’t keep any secrets, be up front. A person can handle the truth better from someone they know well than they can from a stranger. You need those close to you to be honest with you. Don’t leave it up to the professionals. A person needs to know the truth to get his life in order. Don’t force anything, but be willing to talk. You can see when someone is troubled and you can say, ‘Dad is anything bothering you?’ You make the person more comfortable with you and their illness”
Then Barb took her turn: “And you need to be truthful about your own struggles with the patient too. Don’t pretend, don’t put on. It shows how much you care. The truth can bring understanding. The truth can change the climate of your heart. After we told John about all the problems his children were having, about Marvin’s heart surgery, about all of Shirley’s medical problems, he became more understanding. He became more concerned about the kids.”
Marvin concluded, “The family needs to know the truth too. I gathered all my brothers and sisters in the hospital parking lot and told them how it was. I didn’t’ have any trouble with them after that. It brought the family closer. We were always close but we ended up talking more; we had to.”
I’ve come to realize that control and protection are just illusions; and protection can feel a lot like exclusion. No one wants to be or feel left out. No one wants to feel invisible, especially not the physically or terminally ill. They still want to be included; they still want to be needed and involved until the very end.
I’m reminded of the lyrics of the old song, “People”: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world…and yet letting our grownup pride hide all the need inside, acting more like children than children…People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”
So the next time we’re going through a difficult time, instead of hiding all our needs inside, instead of excluding others because of our grown up pride, let’s allow other’s inside. For: “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor, for if they fall, one will lift up his companion; but woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
Loren Hardin is a hospice social worker at Southern Ohio Medical Center and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 740-356-2525