The Head Tilt

Do you know that tilt of the head a dog gives you when you say something or make a funny sound? You think it’s adorable and it makes said dog appear even cuter than he already did.

People give the same head tilt to Caregivers. Except Caregivers don’t find it cute or adorable. It’s annoying and you should stop it.

Let me explain…

This post if meant for people who know a Caregiver through work. It is this relationship dynamic that usually leads to the head tilt.

You approach a Caregiver and you ask how their loved one is doing and they answer you with some version of the truth that they feel like sharing in that moment. It is sad and unsettleing to you and so you instinctively give the “head tilt” and then most of you accompany that with “awwww. i’m so sorry.” And then stammer for what to say next. Now the Caregiver feels the need to lighten the situation and to make you feel better and less uncomfortable. So she probably responds with, “Oh it’s okay, I’ll be fine.” And then asks some random work question in order to change the subject.

Here is what you need to understand. The subject of illness and death is uncomfortable for both parties. Both parties want to be polite and understanding. But only one party is emotionally attached and therefor a bit emotionally unstable. When you approach a Caregiver, have a plan. THINK about what you are saying and what you are going to ask. You are not a teenager casually responding to a break-up or a failed grade on a test. “Awww” plus “head tilt” is not acceptable. This may make no sense to you, but it does to the Caregiver you are about to approach.

Don’t approach a co-worker in the middle of their work day. For most, work is a means of escape. To answer while trying to distract herself brings it all rushing back and now two worlds are colliding and you are likely to send her crying, and huddling, under her desk. Ask after work or simply send a kind email letting her know you are there for her if she needs to vent during her day.
When you do approach, don’t ask “How is your mom doing?” The only true answer is “terrible” and you probably don’t want all of the details. My advice is not to ask questions. Make statements. “I know you are going through a really rough time right now and I just want you to know I am here for you. You can come to me at any time.” THAT is the BEST thing you can say to a Caregiver.
If you choose to ask, or if she chooses to divulge things to you, keep your head up-right! Say to her, “I can’t imagine what you are going through. This must all be so difficult for you. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you. We’re all here for you. I’m about to go grab a coffee, can I get one for you?” You’ve kept it short and sweet and declarative. You’ve showed your support but now without the use of sympathetic grunts. And you’ve made an exit which means she doesn’t have to make idle chatter.
Caregivers are like walking time bombs, and you have to understand that. At any moment they are on the verge of both sobbing and pummeling someone. They are fragile and emotionally raw. Handle them with care. And be honest with yourself. Only ask or approach if that makes sense for the relationship that you have with her. If you only speak when you run into each other in the hallway, then whatever is happening to her is none of your business. Sign the card that gets passed around the office and smile nicely when you see her.

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