Every caregiver needs a support group. You may think you don’t need one, but you do. You need a release valve to funnel off the tempest in your brain before it spews too much information all over innocent bystanders.
I embarrassed myself at the checkout stand at the grocery store one morning. I was piling Richard’s supply of mint cookies and candy bars onto the conveyor belt when the sweet little bald-headed cashier commented on the tastiness of the Almond Joys© I was purchasing.
“Oh, they’re not for me,” I had to clarify. “They’re for my husband. He has cancer and there isn’t much he can eat, but he does have a sweet tooth and he loves Almond Joys©. It’s so hard to find anything that he wants to eat . . .”
I continued my monologue, sparing few details. I think I even covered a colorful episode of explosive diarrhea while the shell-shocked cashier stared. It was a look like I had written “HELP ME!” in bright red letters on a sticky-note and stuck it on my forehead.
I don’t remember how I got back to my car. I’m sure the cashier eagerly assisted. As I regained my breath, the humiliation set in. I dropped my head on folded arms over my steering wheel. Here I was, a reserved private person, who just spilled my guts, my innermost secrets, to someone wearing a nametag that I had no time to read.
I thought I was handling this caregiver thing so well, when obviously I wasn’t. I didn’t go to that store again for a long time and I still can’t look that nice cashier in the eye. He has forgotten the incident, of course, but I haven’t. I never will.
I didn’t go looking for a caregiver support group. It found me while I was following up on a cancer patient support group for Rich. He was not enthusiastic about talking to other people with cancer, but I thought it was something Rich should try. So did his oncologist since he had given us the referral. It pained me to see Rich isolated at home. All his friends but one had deserted him. He only left the house on short errands which gave him an opportunity to smoke in the car. He only left his chair in front of the TV for cigarette breaks in the garage or the backyard.
Rich did go once to the cancer patient group but he did not feel comfortable there. He blamed his poor hearing. I, likewise, gave the offshoot group for caregivers a try. It was a warm group. They all knew each other. I was the newbie. We sat on orange vinyl sofas and chairs in a little room in the depths of the hospital. The furniture circled a coffee table where a box of fluffy pop-up tissues was the centerpiece. I went a couple of times but did not feel it was for me. It was early in our cancer journey. Rich and I expected him to recover from lymphoma. The recovery statistics were in his favor.
A couple years later, after my grocery store melt-down, I thought again about that welcoming group huddled in the tiny room at the hospital. Rich and I were cancer veterans by then. Lymphoma had been beaten but liver cancer, a cancer with no effective treatment plans, no cures, was our new companion. Richard was terminal. It was only a matter of time.
When I returned to the group, two of the members, both men, I recognized from my earlier visits. They were still there. All the other faces were new to me as I was to them. The facilitator, a cancer survivor herself, had us talk one by one. The individual stories, what each caregiver had experienced in the last week, took my breath away. They were brave kindred souls, overcoming roadblocks that I thought were mine alone. Even before it was my turn to speak, I felt as if I had come home.
Find yourself a support group where you can unload the horrors of your caregiver life. They will listen to every word and even ask questions. You’ll know all of them by name. They have stories of their own to tell, stories that somehow always sound worse than yours.
1. Men need a support group perhaps even more than women do.
2. Men are more resistant than women to participating in a support group.
3. A man sometimes needs another man who has been there to say, “You need a support group. You don’t think you do, but you do.”
4. There is something incredibly endearing about a man crying.
2014 by Dale L. Baker