LTCI #2: Am I my family’s keeper?

How’s your mum? How’s your sister?’

These are questions I get a lot. They’re great questions. They mean people are thinking about my sick family members, and it shows that the people around me understand that their illnesses are a rather large part of my life.

Am I my family's keeper_ #caregiver #struggle #chronicillness #writer #hope #chronic #faith #watching #prayer

Most of the time I appreciate the time taken to ask a question like this, and the implied preparedness of the Asker to listen to a ‘deep’ response.

The other week though, I got asked this question twice, and each time it left me feeling guilty.

I bumped into my landlady as I was leaving my house, and she stopped me with a smile, and asked, ‘How is your mum going? And your sister’s health – how is it?’

I smiled in reply – and then froze.

Not because the answer to the question was a sad one, or because I didn’t have time to explain… but because I did not know.

I did not have an answer.

Am I my family’s keeper?

I wracked my brain to try and remember the last update I’d had of my family’s health, and realised it had been a couple of days since I’d rung home. And then, had I asked about their health?

I couldn’t remember.

I think we’d simply chatted about everyday things and I’d told them stories about work. I had probably heard how they were feeling that day, but hadn’t listened hard enough for it to remain at the forefront of my thoughts three days later.

‘Er.. ‘ I stuttered, offered some generalities, and then admitted I hadn’t heard any specifics from them recently. And then I skulked away, feeling somewhat ashamed – but also annoyed.

Was I my family’s keeper?

Reproached by The Question

A few days later I was at Bible study.

At the conclusion of the study we were sharing prayer points as usual, and I offered some about a conference I was preparing to attend, and my lack of energy lately. Then one of my friends turned to me… with The Question:

‘And your mum and sister? How are they? Any updates?’

It wasn’t asked in a reproachful tone, but for a few minutes I definitely felt reproached! Of course I had prayer points for them – there were always prayer points – but I hadn’t offered them, simply because I had not been thinking of them, but of myself.

I had no recent information about their lives, and as I drove home later that evening I wondered if that made me a bad sister, a negligent daughter…

What was I supposed to do when people asked questions to which I had no answers?

Simply feel bad? Was I my family’s keeper?

The reasoning behind the question:

I think it depends on the reason I don’t know..

  • Do I not know because life has been busy? Because that’s okay sometimes.

  • Or is it because I’ve been far too focused on myself and not bothered to listen?

  • Or does it mean I haven’t asked because I want to protect myself and not get involved in lives haunted with pain?

I’m lucky. I’m my family’s keeper

Not everyone will be reminded by those around them to love their family. Not everyone will be prompted as they leave the house or pray at Bible study to inquire into the lives of those struggling with their health.

But I am. And because I am blessed with this, I must use it to bless others.

I must use these questions, not as an opportunity for self-recrimination, but as a reminder to love.

//I’d love to hear from you! Do you ever have no answer to questions about your loved ones? What did you do?

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Author: Emily J. M.

Hi, I'm Emily. Two of my closest family members struggle with chronic illness, and I watch them. That's hard, and so I write about life as a 'Watcher', what it looks like to support them and find Hope.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear from you, friend.