I keep a small poster in my office. It reads, “We are all just angels with one wing. We fly by holding onto each other.” It has made me think about angels and stones.
I am coming through a period of intense caregiving. My mother’s 7-week journey to leave this life was followed quickly by my son and his girlfriend being injured in a car accident. Noticing where the support came from, and where it didn’t, was interesting.
The angels were those people who showed up, unbidden, to help in some way: The neighbor who, every Sunday, stopped by with several meals already prepared, enough for 2 or 3 days. The friend I hadn’t seen in years who brought a vegetarian lasagna saying, “I wanted to support you in this time, so I brought dinner.” The person who said, “I can bring your toiletries over” when I was doing round-the-clock care. The woman at my favorite gift shop who listened with warmth and empathy.
Angels make no demands. You don’t have to take time or energy to entertain them. You don’t have to comfort them. They don’t ask for details or stories that are not important. They simply help take care of what needs to be done.
Stones, on the other hand, may be harder to recognize. They weigh you down in ways you might not even notice at first. The friend who says, “If there’s anything I can do…” may sound like an angel, but, if there is no follow-through, in truth is a stone. The person who offers help but needs you to leave what you are doing in order to follow through (e.g. “Well, I can pay for that, but can you pick it up?) is a stone.
They feel better for having made the offer. Do you feel better for having gotten it?
As a caregiver, a useful question to ask is “Is this person an angel, helping me to fly, or a stone, weighing me down?” Here are some questions to help find the answer. Angels get “yes” answers. A “no”, a hesitation, or a qualification tells you this is a stone.
- Do you feel better, lighter, at the end of the contact?
- Have you gotten something beneficial, either tangible or emotional, out of the interaction?
- Do you feel heard, supported, or recognized at the end of the interaction?
- Do you feel this person is asking questions to be emotionally supportive or take useful action?
- Does this person ease your burden or bring some comfort?
- Does having this person be part of what is going on make things easier for you?
- Not everyone who offers help is helpful. As caregivers, we get to protect ourselves and say “No, thanks” to stones who weigh us down.
Angels help us fly, bring comfort, make us feel better in some way. These are the people we need to have in order to be able to do what we need to do as caregivers. Hold angels close.