Sunday, February 25, 2018

Please Don't Tell Me I Look Tired

Maybe you are trying to be kind. Maybe you are trying to be supportive. Maybe you are trying to validate the challenging experience of a friend who is a family caregiver.  But believe me, when you tell a caregiver that they look tired, you are doing none of those things.

In fact, it’s just the opposite.

You say something like, “Oh honey, you look tired.” Or, “Are you OK? You look a little tired.”

Not helpful.
Not a compliment
Not going to fix anything.

Think about it: What exactly are you saying when you tell a friend that they look tired?

It usually means one or more of the following: dark shadows under the eyes, red eyes, sallow skin, poor posture, saggy facial tone, slumped shoulders, bad or melting makeup, dirty hair, not smiling, low energy, tension in the face or shoulders.

Does any of those things signify attractiveness? No.

So what you are doing when you say, “You look tired” is to say to your friend, “You look unattractive today.”

Is that what you meant as helpful?

Now I get it: You run into your friend who is a family caregiver. You know she is having a hard time and maybe you even know that she’s been tired.

Wouldn’t it be more helpful to say, “You look wonderful today.” Or “I love that color on you.” Or the best: “How are you feeling today?”
And let her tell you the status of her energy.

Because what if—and this happens a lot—she’s having a day full of hope, and it’s one of her better days, and maybe she is feeling the best she has felt in weeks, and secretly hoping she looks good today.

And then there you are, full of well-intended (we hope) compassion, heartily jabbing your caring needle-- “Oh dear, you look tired” --in her balloon.

Don’t do that. There’s no need. There are so many other ways to be kind to a family caregiver.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

It's Valentine's Day in CancerLand

So, you are in CancerLand on Valentine’s Day?

Yep, that sucks. It’s awful. I know; I’ve been there. 

But you do not have to surrender to 5FU and all her crazy chemo cousins.

You can have Valentine’s Day and romance and cancer. Here’s how: 

Remember how Valentine’s Day worked before cancer.

Shed one tear remembering that, and then laugh. Find something to laugh about. Call up your true love and reminisce together. 

Make a Valentine. If you can get out, buy a pretty one. If you can’t get out (friggin’ 5FU) then make one: paper doilies, red Sharpie, tear a story form the newspaper, write on a playing card (yes you can ruin a deck of cards by taking out the King or Queen of hearts).

 Drop your expectations. Like a hot potato—drop them. This is Valentine’s Day in a new country: CancerLand.

Think about love, and email love and text that love. There is so much love in CancerLand and with your partner, state it clearly. You have seen and felt love so grand and so different than people who have never visited CancerLand. Claim and celebrate that love. Explicitly.

People around you may be afraid to ask, “What are you guys doing for Valentine’s Day?” like they are asking other couples. Shame on them—announce what you are doing. Stare down their fear. 

Things to keep: affection, conversation, chocolate, cards, flowers, bad poetry, good poetry, and romantic comedies (TV listing are crammed with romantic movies tonight.)

Things to lose: expectations and projections

Things to negotiate: a good meal, gifts and sex. (be creative and open-minded with that last word.)

Refuse to surrender: your relationship, your coupledom, your happiness. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

I Married a Canadian

We were on vacation in Northern Ontario. It was midnight in the little village and no cars had moved for hours. At the crosswalk I step into the intersection and feel a sudden tug on my arm. As Mr. Cameron pulled me back to the curb, I look up to see that the signal says, “Don’t Walk”.  Smiling I stand on the silent sidewalk and wait. When the traffic signal glows its approval to cross we step out carefully and correctly; I laugh. This is the kind of thing that happens in a mixed marriage.  I married a Canadian. 

Hockey, beer, donuts, moose –these stereotypes, all rooted in Canadian reality are funny to  

We especially like the accent, the lilting up and down of Canadian speech. In just a few hours in Ontario I am imitating my in-laws, “Will ya go to the lake, eh?” But I also know that the final “eh” on Canadian sentences and obeying traffic signals are related. The Canadian “eh” is not just a conversational tic. That uplifting extra syllable is an invitation to consensus, to agreement, and to keeping the order.

Keeping order is one of the greater aspects of Canada that we Americans-- so nearby-- miss when we think “Canadian”. Canadians –motivated by a concern for a “common good” are more orderly, law abiding and considerate than we. It’s not because they are nicer, but consideration of one’s impact on others is a strong cultural value.  

Speech patterns give more than a clue to this difference. The histories of our nations are echoed in how we use our common language. There are very few declarations in Canadian dialect. Declarations invite challenge. This makes sense when you remember that Canada did not have to struggle for independence as Americans did. Britain approved Canada’s confederation in 1867.  So, you can hear how the inflection, that final “eh” leaves the conversational door open with space for another’s thought.

For example, while visiting we met a young man who was dating a niece. He was not as bright as the family might have liked. But as I was about to blurt, in my American declarative, “He’s an idiot”, my sister-in-law said in her Canadian lilt, “Ya say hello to him and he’s stuck for an answer, eh?” Message delivered; door left ajar.

Americans however are poised for a fight. You can hear it in our speech with its tone of certainty and downward inflection; we are always staking a conversational claim. Even the most pacifist of us hold our opinions –and our right to them—like guns.  This also comes from our past. We arrived here fighting. 

This is also why the gun control issue seems easier to Canadians. Friends in Ontario shake their heads at our debates and say, “Such a big fuss, eh?”  For us the gun question is emotionally charged because at a deep level we remember fighting for our land and freedom. 

It may be around the idea of freedom that our look-alike cultures diverge. My husband and I have a regular debate about freedom. I say Americans have more freedom: We can be and do and say whatever we like. It’s freedom TO. But, says Mr. Cameron, in Canada freedom is seen as freedom FROM. The Canadian consideration for the common good allows Canadians relative freedom from violence, from crime, and from poverty. 

Because Canada is a non-litigious culture Canadians are especially free of the kinds of legal hassles that cost Americans so much time and money.

These differences run deep but they’re obvious when you lay the historic values side by side. We salute “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” There is a win-the-west, win-the-war feel to it. Then picture Canada’s: “Peace, Order and Good Government”. Can’t you just see people cueing up and taking turns, and leaving room in the conversation for the other guy?

Canada is not a land of Boy Scout, do-gooders of course. The very contradictions make you love ‘em, eh? Theirs is a mostly non-violent culture whose national pastime—hockey-- knocks the teeth out of every male over nine years of age. And while living surrounded by natural beauty and wilderness air Canadians smoke themselves to death. We joke that Canadian restaurants offer two seating choices: Smoking and Chain-Smoking.

Married to a Canadian I learned a lot. I learned to care more about the rest of the world as Canadians do and to not run from the room when the world news comes on. I learned that waiting for the walk signal is not passive submission to rules and regs; rather it’s an active expression of community and being part of the common good.