How to be supportive, when I can't be there in person
May 5, 2016 8:46 AM   Subscribe

My partner is going to visit his parent, who has cancer and is in palliative care in another city (and might die quite soon.) Due to my own health, I genuinely can't travel there with him. What are some ways to be supportive of my partner, when I can't be there in person?
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us to Human Relations (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe too cutesy for your situation?? But when I've traveled, my wife will hide little notes and surprises in my clothes and baggage. I love finding them when I unpack without her. If you have some PJ's that he could wear of yours, or just snuggle up with, that helps with feeling like you are there with him.

I would definitely want anything that was a tangible reminder of you being "with me".
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:57 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

One thing to bear in mind is not to freak out if he gets all embroiled in family drama and doesn't call or text or whatever.

Be super forgiving, and open to receiving calls whenever he can get to you.

Perhaps a small stuffed animal with a spray of your perfume on it so he has a little something of you with him.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:23 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Does your partner have an able friend who you could pay to go with them? I've been that person for a good friend of mine (I was in the destination so their spouse paid for food and sent me a big thank you gift later, but it was the same idea) and I was really glad I could help my two wonderful friends out that way, by being proxy emotional support. I mostly made sure she took care of herself and called her wife every day, provided a sounding board for medical proxy decisions needing to be made, and reminded her that the situation was awful and she was allowed to feel awful. You might be surprised at who is willing to step up to do this for your spouse if you just ask (and offer to compensate for the financial burden.)

If the next-best-thing friend idea isn't feasible, do what you can long distance. Schedule a time to talk every day, and talk about inconsequential nice things when they need it. Text them suggestions for lunch places or nice spots to discover that you can research beforehand online. See if you can be there virtually during medical discussions through Skype or a phone call on speaker, just so your spouse knows you're listening and they won't have to repeat it all. There are a lot more options these days for long distance presence, you just have to be proactive about it. Don't do everything of course, but one or two things a day.

Everyone reacts to the death of a parent in different ways. When they get home they'll need you too. Stay alert and attentive to them and if possible, set up home so they'll be able to work through their grief in a healthy way. That might mean laying in a lot of home cooking, or scheduling friends to come over, or planning lots of distractions, or cleaning the house, or rearranging your schedule to be there with them more for a while, or whatever it may be. You can do a lot of good after the ordeal appears to be over.
posted by Mizu at 9:28 AM on May 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

My partner went through something similar recently. He told me that the best thing I did for him was to be super understanding when he cancelled on me (we are already long distance so we have standing video chat dates) and when he was nonresponsive or uncommunicative sometimes. It was hard for me not knowing what was going on with his family member or with him, but not as hard as it was for him to be going through it.

Remembering that support should go in, towards the person experiencing the cancer, radiating outward to those who were closest to her, and then outward further, was also helpful to keep in mind. I had my own sadness and stress to process with respect to the situation, but I did not share that with him -- I talked to my own friends and family about it instead. Finding that kind of support for you might be a good idea.

Just be understanding, don't push or ask too many questions, and let them drive the boat knowing you are a strong and steady pier that they can land on and hold to when things get rough.

Best of luck to you and yours.
posted by sockermom at 11:30 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am your partner right now. My stepfather died in late March and my mother is in not-great health. She's a 13-hour drive away, and I'm going every few weeks. My husband stays behind at home to run our business and tend our beloved dogs.

I very much appreciate that he doesn't press me, about anything. He asks general questions ("How did it go today?") instead of getting involved in specifics. If I want to rant about mom's blood pressure or my terrible step-uncles or the bonkers traffic on I-81, I have the option but I don't feel I have to loop him in on every damn thing. Open-ended questions are the best - they convey "I'm here, I care and I want to listen" but don't demand anything beyond "We got by today." Sometimes, that's all I can say.

I come home with bizarre things... a bunch of antique mason jars, a box of oddball tools. I know they're not junk but I'm not sure what to do with them, either. My (awesome) husband just says, "Hmm. I bet we'll need that one of these days." and puts it aside until I'm ready to deal with it.

By far the best thing he did... after my second visit home when I was really worried about my mom (she was 89 pounds and not gaining) and I uncharacteristically lost it, crying... he just held me and stroked my hair. I was so worried and there was nothing I could do from 800-some miles away. So he held me while I cried. He didn't ask anything, he just let me cry it out. I don't cry often, so I really appreciated it when he didn't remark on it or find it odd, he just held me.

I'll keep a good thought for you and your partner. Please feel free to memail me if you want.
posted by workerant at 9:29 PM on May 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Comfort in, dump out, as discussed previously, is super important.

Presumably his focus will be on them while he is there, and possibly when he returns, so it may or may not help for you to do stuff like sending distracting movies, or chatty notes, or even asking for a daily call. But you know him best: it's very possible that just seeing "XOXO" on his phone each morning might help.

Just be there, I guess. Take care, both of you.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:00 PM on May 6, 2016

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