Caring too much?

lilyShe’s athletic, smart, friendly. And only 22. And she’s dying of cancer.

My friend, we’ll call her Ann, has told me about her friend, let’s call her Z., the one who is very ill. Ann has been visiting Z. regularly. About one month ago, Z. took a turn for the worse. She’s been fading in and out of consciousness. She’s been throwing up a lot. And fever has afflicted her. Ann has been visiting Z. almost every day.

Ann’s husband, we’ll call him hubby, has been concerned about Ann getting involved. Hubby has suggested maybe Ann shouldn’t go over so much. Maybe she shouldn’t have gotten involved; it’s not family, after all. And it really has begun to effect Ann. She’s been less focused on her work, and sadness has crept into her daily demeanor. Ann’s mother died of cancer a few years back, and the old feelings are resurfacing.

Or is resurfacing the wrong word, and the feelings have been there all along? Maybe resonating would be a better word: to resonate, to evoke a feeling that is already there. Anyway, I can understand Ann’s need to get involved; how wonderful that she can share with this family that is suffering so. But I can also understand that hubby wants to protect Ann.

Last week she went to Z.’s house and sang some favorite songs. Everyone there had a good time. For the moment.

Can one care too much? Perhaps the tendency to shy away from difficult situations like this one is self-protective; not everyone has Ann’s ability to share deep pain. Also, not every family is as receptive as Z.’s. Sometimes people need a script to help others. And sometimes families need a script on how to receive help.

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10 thoughts on “Caring too much?

  • My personal opinion with whch I know not everyone will agree: In the best of all worlds, everyone should be as unselfish as possible. It’s good for Ann to be involved and to care. Her husband should try to be understanding when she’s sad, and in turn, Ann owes it to her husband to try to put her sadness aside in his presence. He shouldn’t hold her sadness against her and should try to be understanding, and she should not use her sadness to milk too much “Oh, honey, I am so sorry” attention from him. Mature adults know how and when to put their own feelings aside in order to concentrate on the other.

    Easy to say, hard to put into practice.

  • Gail,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. It seems that my post touched on some of your own experiences.

    put their own feelings aside
    Maybe what you mean is active listening? Meaning, take out the time to listen to the other person, and really listen, and in some way repeat back to them what they say, to make sure you understood them? Or maybe not, and that’s just my suggestion.

    I have difficulty with the expression to “put one’s feelings aside”; one’s feelings are one’s feelings. If it just means be considerate, then I’m OK with that. But the expression stirs up feelings of self-denial for me.

  • I’m always worried that my wife, who has health problems, is inclined to give too much of herself. She’ll work herself to exhaustion to help a friend, and then be incapacitated for two or three days until she recovers. She also works like a tiger – long periods of near inactivity followed by a frenzy of effort until the task is done, and then the exhaustion hits.

    Accepting that these approaches to problems are really fundamental parts of who she is, and she really isn’t going to change, has been a big part of my marital adjustments. She is also working to be more aware of what she is doing, and trying to say ‘no’ occasionally.

  • Larry,

    I feel like I know your wife. I mean, I don’t really know her, but I can feel how giving makes her tick, makes her move forward. And I can see how she has a hard time saying “no”. Best wishes for you both. Keep moving forward, wherever that is.

  • I once had a situation with a friend that became all consuming. Her problems started to become my problems and affected my family. I went to a rabbi for advice on how to handle the situation. He told me that my own daled amos (family, home) was the most important thing, and if this person’s problems were infringing upon my own family life I needed to either pull back or pull away from the situation completely. If you can strike a healthy balance between doing chesed and actually taking on another person’s burdens, that’s great. If for whatever reason you are getting sucked into their situation or drama, you must pull away and protect yourself.

  • I’ve been married 27 years. At times both of us have “put feelings aside” for the other. When we are tired, stressed out, angry, whatever.

    I had breast cancer. I had a husband and three children ages 10, 12 and 17. What good would it have done any of us if I had moped around and felt sorry for myself? I put my feelings aside for my family, and it actually did ME good.

    I’m a believer in being in control of one’s feelings instead of allowing them to control you. It’s not wrong to feel them, it’s not wrong to express them, but one also has to remain aware of the effect they have on others around us. There’s no use in wallowing.

  • But I guess I should also add, I used to be an oncology nurse. Maybe I learned how to deal with my feelings with death and dying in a way that others haven’t had a chance to.

  • frumhouse,

    Thanks for sharing. Balance is important.

    A few definitions:
    chesed: acts of kindness
    daled amos: literally, 4 cubits
    I first learned this as one must walk a guest daled amos from one’s abode. One could define daled amos as a one’s personal space.


    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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