12 Tips for Friends & Family

A comment on my 12 Tips for Cancer Patients entry deserved a more prominent placement. By John Mark Eberhart, husband to the late Sherri Eberhart:

1. You are NOT sick. No matter how understanding you think you are, you can’t comprehend this disease till it is IN YOU.

2. You, too, will be tired, sad. Remember: No matter how bad you feel, your spouse/parent/child/friend feels worse.

3. You will find your chores crowd out your old interests. If you truly love the person, you won’t care much.

4. You will hear lots of advice on how to care for someone with cancer. 99.9 percent of it is nonsense.

5. You, too, will lose friends. Especially the ones who look for blessings on your behalf as you watch your loved one suffer or die. Cut ‘em loose — those kinds of friends, that is.

6. You will miss the person you knew before that person had cancer. It will break your heart. But that person’s changes will not all be sorrowful. Find the bonds between the two of you that have been and will remain.

7. You will not have much time for making new friends. You are taking care of a person who is sick or dying. Your time with them will range from horribly difficult to a closeness you thought you might never know.

8. You will question whether the “support” you are providing is enough. Most of the time, it is enough to give all you can. Other times, the very limits of your abilities, your giving, will not be enough to ease the pain for the person you love. It’s cancer. No other word hurts so much.

9. You will be afraid, too, but your fear never can be the same as the fears harbored by the one you love. Cancer patients are afraid they will die. People who care for cancer patients are afraid they will LIVE — on and on and on, if the patient does die. These are two different terrors. From the moment you realize this, cancer has driven a wedge between the two of you that never can be overcome entirely. Let the wedge be the wedge. Let your love abide.

10. Whether your loved on lives or dies, you will grieve. There is anticipatory grief, and yes, those other “stages.” They’re not stages. You’re not standing on any one of those stages at any given time, performing. The grief comes in waves. Watch the ocean sometime; waves overlap, converge, separate. In the ocean, this is beautiful. In your head, it’s torment.

11. Your loved one’s cancer will teach you that every illusion of control you ever have entertained is falsehood.

12. Peace? Peace is relative. Whether your loved one lives or dies, you are now a damaged person. Pain evolves. Peace can come. Time will be your enemy at first. If you’re lucky, you will make friends with it. Be careful not to rush yourself.

No matter where I am,
I can’t help thinking
I’m just a day away
from where I want to be…
It’s so hard to come by,
that feeling of peace.
This friend of mine said,
“Close your eyes
and try a few of these.”
I thought I was flying like a bird,
so far above my sorrow,
but when I looked down,
I was standing on my knees.
Now I need someone to help me,
someone to help me please.

Jackson Browne, Your Bright Baby Blues

Don’t be afraid to ask for help — during, and, if there’s an after, after. I wrote this after — in memory of my wife, Sherri L. Eberhart: Jan. 20, 1961-Oct. 13, 2008.


John Mark Eberhart & Sherri Eberhart in Oregon, 2005


About Quixotic Chick

I write. I take pictures. I survived cancer.
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