Once again, my husband, my muse, gave me pause the other night.

He wasn’t feeling well, thanks to the start of a cold, and when I said I was worried, he abruptly stated, “Worrying is stupid.” I was offended. Ron tends to be one of those people who likes to hibernate and be alone when he is sick…but of course, I want to help him feel better. He has had pneumonia a few times, so I worry that on the rare occasion when he catches a cold, it may get more serious. So there I am, wanting to shower him with chicken soup and vitamin C to help him avoid serious illness, and he just pushes me away.

My response to his declaration that worrying is stupid—“I am simply trying to love you and let you know I care.”

“Caring is fine. Worrying is not.”

“But to me, worrying is an extension of caring.”

Pause…there, he did it again. Caught me in a major philosophical trap that has now haunted me for weeks.

I know that worrying is wasted and even dangerous energy. I tell that to myself every time a family member is flying or headed on a long drive. There is nothing on earth that I can do from afar that will change his/her fate on that plane or in that car. I remind mommy friends that all their worries are for naught, since nothing they do will protect their kids from falling off the monkey bars at recess…or keep them safe while at a college party. Similarly, for all us “sandwichers” who are also caring for aging parents, we can’t ensure that they will never fall or make a medication mistake. It’s simply impossible. You can teach your children right from wrong when young…encourage your parents and teens to make smart choices…and then it’s up to them. Sitting around imagining the worst is a pure waste of time and brain cells.

But here’s what I’ve wrestled with. What about caring? Where is the line between caring and worrying? Why have I morphed them together?

Some scenarios…

Grown child calls to share what’s going on in her life and verbally vomits about her bad day at work and unreasonable boss. Should I simply care about her frustrations? Or worry that she is deeply unhappy or maybe needs a different job?

Spouse calls to say his flight has been canceled, he is stranded for the night and won’t be home until tomorrow. Care about his comfort through the night? Or worry that his travels will now cost more and he won’t be home as planned?

Refrigerator breaks and you have guests coming to stay for the weekend. Care about the comfort of your family and guests and whether to reschedule with your friends? Or worry that things always break and what will go wrong next?

The doctor calls and says your family member needs to come in for a second round of testing. Care and be concerned about his health and well-being? Or worry that something horrible may be wrong?

In each of these scenarios, I would care, but would I also worry? Hmmmm. I could see worrying about a child’s happiness or someone’s health concern…but would I react differently depending on my relationship with that person?

Is caring versus worrying a function of relationship? Does something morph from caring to worrying when it’s closer to home?

Or does it come down to a question of control? Caring is what you do in the present and worrying happens when you have nothing else to do.

I care while on the phone with my daughter, I worry when I get off the phone and think about whether she has the tools to handle the situation properly. I care about my mother when she tells me she’s taking the dog for a walk on a snowy day. I worry when I call her later and she doesn’t answer the phone. I care about my husband when he doesn’t feel well, and I worry when I fear he’s not doing enough to beat that nasty cold.

Ironically, we want to take control and fix a situation, but we can’t do anything. I can’t help the pilot. I can’t stop a drunk driver. So, does worrying give us something to do in the meantime?

I think that’s it…that’s my new delineation. It is not really about them. It’s about me and my need to control. Caring is what you feel when you are connected…and worrying is what you do when you care but can’t do anything about it.

My husband is right. Worrying is stupid and utterly useless. Can’t fix…can’t help…can’t do anything. It’s merely noise in the brain. A distraction. A destruction that creates more stress and strain on the body.

What to do instead when you want to do something but are utterly powerless?

Care. Care that you care. Let others know that you care. Ask if there is anything you can do to help change the situation. And then let go. Distract. Move on. Find something else to care about. There is always plenty on that list.

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