“You know, I heard that green tea/apricot pits/jogging/apple cider vinegar/kale/broccoli/mustard greens/fresh avocados/yoga/this miracle powder/oil/salve/etc., etc., etc. will cure your mom’s cancer. You really need to try it. It worked for my cousin’s friend’s stepmom’s brother. Let me get you the information!”
If you have ever had a loved one with cancer, you’ve heard these offers. You know exactly how they sound. The personal heroism of a friend or neighbor or acquaintance or coworker, offered bravely to your face, can feel so affrontive and offensive. This is especially true when medical treatment plans are not working; when your loved one is especially vulnerable for any number of emotional or physical reasons; or—
wait for it—
when the person offering the miracle cure is otherwise uninterested, uninvolved, and/or unhelpful in the actual caregiving of the patient.
There. I said it. Do not come up to me offering miracles, period. I don’t have the energy to explain to you that, while broccoli is great and we should all definitely get more exercise, they alone are not going to abate the tumors in my mom’s lungs. I don’t have the emotional wherewithal to be polite to you while staring in disbelief that you yourself have fallen victim to believing some scheme.
And if you have not asked if we need anything, or brought us a cake or pie or casserole or loaf of bread in the four years since she’s been diagnosed, then you have an especially low level of credence or gravitas with me in terms of your interest in my mom’s well-being.
If you are a caregiver, you know exactly what I mean. We are on the same page right now. We are all preachers and choirs (or pots and kettles) at once.
But…that doesn’t mean we know what to do about these offers of help. As annoyed or hurt or exhausted as we may be, the fact remains that these are relationships we may need to maintain. Telling folks exactly how we think or feel about their unhelpful “help,” using all the words we want to use, is not exactly conducive to maintaining the relationships. So, we need a coping mechanism. We need a tool.
At some point, off the cuff, in one of my more emotionally raw moments, when faced with one of these offers, I let slip from my mouth: “you know what would actually be helpful?”
And, just as if in a sitcom, I jumped; surprised at my own words; time slowed to a crawl; I turned my head; I looked at my acquaintance, as if in molasses-slow-motion, terrified that she would be offended; and…
She looked right back at me, unaware of my sitcom-terror-moment, and said “what? What do you need? Let me help!”
And my world shifted from a sitcom to a Disney princess movie. Time sped back up, birds chirped, the sun came out, the clouds parted, and music started to play.
Well, that’s how it felt, anyway. Seriously: I was floored. Her genuine interest in helping had been proven, and I realized: she just didn’t know HOW to help, or WHAT to offer, so she had reverted to the only tip/trick/hack that she knew of on the topic.
My point is: as caregivers, we are so consumed by all that we have to do that we cannot imagine anyone in our lives or networks being oblivious to our reality. But, my friends, they are. All of our friends (and relatives and acquaintances and neighbors and coworkers) are understandably consumed by their own realities. When they occasionally can fall out of their own orbits to see what we are up against, it takes a lot of time to catch up with the status of things, let alone to study up on what we might need or not need. This is time that the folks in our networks usually don’t have, my friends. So, if they are aware of some one-size-fits-all grab-and-go panacea, of course that’s what they’re going to offer. These are, after all, unfortunately readily available and highly advertised.
Here’s the point: on that day that the skies cleared and my friend stopped in her tracks to ask what I actually needed, I learned that her heart was in the right place. Her intentions were good, even if ill-informed. And, I would venture to guess, that's the case 9x/10.
And so, the “pivot” was born. This became my tool, and I offer it to you here in hopes that you can make use of it as well.
(If you're a fan of the movie or musical "Legally Blonde," or if you love "Clueless" or "Mean Girls" or anything like that, this can alternatively be referred to as the "bend and snap." Don't ask).
The “pivot” is just the name I give to my blatant usury of the assumed good intentions of the poor soul who offers me snake oil. Here is the script:
Person: “I’m sorry to hear about your mom’s lung cancer. Have you tried making a smoothie from donkey fur? I hear that cures cancer.”
Me: “OH my gosh, thank you, that’s so nice of you to tell me. Hey, ya know, I’m really covered up on Thursday. Can you bring mom some lunch?”
BOOM. Done. Weapon deployed.
(The caveat, of course, is that you have to have a ready-made mental list of assistance that would be useful to you. Frankly, I think this is always good to have, so that you can always respond productively when folks ask what they can do, no matter how they actually ask the question).
Anyway: my favorite part of using the pivot tool?
You will *very quickly* separate the wheat from the chaff. You will immediately be able to gauge whether the person offering the unhelpful help was actually interested in helping, or only being unhelpful after all.
And, at the end of the day, they might actually come through.