As a caregiver of someone with cancer, there are so many times we feel powerless. Sometimes it’s when they’re in pain from a recent treatment and there is nothing we can do to make it better. Sometimes it’s seeing the fear and anxiety on their face after hearing the results of a test or a bad prognosis. Sometimes it’s seeing their frustration and anger at their body which has betrayed them. Sometimes it’s seeing the person we knew slip away before our eyes. It can be heartbreaking to watch and know that there is nothing we can do. We feel utterly helpless.
My Husband’s Pain
There were periods during my husband’s many year battle with cancer when he was in pain a lot. Other times he would be worried or anxious about test results or upcoming chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Still other times he would just get so angry that his arm didn’t work the way it used to after the tumor was removed.
When he was in pain, he would often get irritable and angry. His pain and anxiety made me uncomfortable. I hated to see him suffer so I would try to comfort him, or fix the environment in some way so he was more comfortable. This rarely worked and often just made him more irritated.
Try To Control
Feeling powerless is not fun. It strikes us at our core and reminds us how little control we have in this world. Our response is to try to exert any control we can. If we are helpless in the face of his pain, then we can at least try to fix everything else. We desperately try to control anything in our world that we can. Maybe this impulse is redirected to our kids, or our house, or some other area. We are desperate to feel in control of something so that we don’t have to face the reality that we are powerless.
We Want To Feel Better
We don’t even realize it, but our desire to control is just a way for us to feel better about our helplessness. Watching their suffering causes our suffering. We don’t want them to hurt, or feel fearful or angry. But they are. Instead of allowing our own helpless feeling, we resist it and try to not feel it. We try to make them feel better so we can feel better.
Controlling our environment, our kids, or our spouse so we can feel better never works. It doesn’t work because those are all things outside of our control anyway. They have always been outside of our control.
Whose Business Are You In?
I love the way Byron Katie talks about this. She says there are three kinds of business: Your business, their business, and God’s business (AKA reality). When we try to control other people, whether it’s our husband or our kids, we’re in their business. When we try to control our environment or the world in some way, we’re in God’s business. The only business we can control is our business.
Your Thoughts About Their Pain
It’s your thoughts about their pain that causes your suffering. There is the reality of their pain, and then what’s in your head about it.
|What’s Real||What’s In Your Head|
|Husband’s pain||He should be feeling this way.|
I should be able to help.
I hate to see him suffer!
What’s in your head is what causes your pain. You want reality to be different than it is. You want to be in their business or in God’s business. Not staying in your own business is what causes your pain.
Allowing What Is
As a caregiver, we become so tied to their health and wellbeing. That is totally normal. Sometimes it’s hard to separate out their journey from our own. We have to remind ourselves that we are all on our own path in this life. Perhaps it’s part of our role to be present and the witness of their journey. Learning to allow what is happening can bring a measure of peace. It can allow us to be present. It can allow us to focus on what we can control, our own business.
What You Can Control
You can control how you show up when your spouse is in pain or suffering. You can show up loving and present. You can be calm when you are focused not on trying to control what you can’t but on allowing what is. You can hold space for their pain, without feeling you need to fix it.
My husband only ever wanted me to love him. He knew I couldn’t fix his pain and never asked me to. He just wanted my love and for me to be with him. When I just allowed myself to feel sad about his suffering, I could move through that sadness and focus on loving him and just being with him.
Love is a powerful thing.
If you are really struggling to stay in your own business, read Loving What Is, by Byron Katie and sign up here for a coaching consult!