Caring for the Caregiver:
6 ways you can be a helpful, respectful friend to a caregiver.
1. Listen. This does not necessarily mean you need to solve anyone’s problems. This is rarely expected. Venting frustrations can be freeing and healthy for a caregiver. A compassionate, nonjudgemental ear can be just what’s needed. Allow your caregiving friend space to talk it out without interruption. Validate their feelings giving them the comfort to freely express themselves.
2. Offer up what you are capable of offering and make it easy for the caregiver to accept your help. Caregivers often feel like they have to do it all and are used to it. If you ask them what they need, they may not feel comfortable asking. Or, they’ve done so much thinking, they can’t organize their thoughts enough to tell you. So, think about what they may need. Most often it’s food, childcare and/or financial assistance. Then, offer to do the task simply by confirming a good time for them.
- “I would like to make you dinner if that’s ok with you. Does this Saturday work?
- “Can I take the kids overnight on Friday the 5th while you are at treatment?” (close family and friends only)
- “I would like to organize a meal train if you’re comfortable with that.” If so- “What are your dietary restrictions?”
- “You mentioned looking at after care facilities. Would you mind if I came and took notes?” or “I have a list of questions I used for when I looked for my loved one. Would you like to see it?”
- Leave gift cards for restaurants or even better, grocery stores.
- “I’m running to [insert name of store here]. What was it you said you needed? I’ll grab it and drop it off on the way home,” or just do it if you know what’s needed. Call them before bringing it over.
*Never offer what you can’t deliver.
*Make sure they know that you’re coming (unannounced guests could interrupt a routine, or be a risk for immunocompromised people, so best to let them know when you’re coming).
3. Help them find help. Research resources in the community. This could be case managers, available donations, coupons, volunteers, good books, recipes for a particular diet their loved one was prescribed or easy meals.
4. Leave judgement at the door. It wasn’t you that had to quit your job or hire a caregiver. It’s not you that has to watch your loved one suffer while being their sole comfort. Trust that the caregiver has weighed out their options and has a handle on what they are doing. If they haven’t asked you for your opinion, it’s often best kept to yourself. If you do think they have left out certain avenues for support, research, treatment etc, try asking “Have you heard about…?” And if they say they have and it didn’t work for them, leave it alone.
5. Don’t offer your horror story. This is not the time. A person whose mother was just diagnosed with dementia does not need to hear about your neighbor’s cousin’s office manager who lost her independence and verbal skills within a month of diagnosis. You may feel that you are relating but think before you speak. This will only cause more worry and panic. Unless you have useful resources or productive science based fact that would be helpful in their caregiving, best to keep quiet about what you’ve seen.
Check out this Brené Brown animated short outlining the differences between empathy and sympathy- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw
6. Know when to encourage socialization and when to provide space. This one can be tricky. Caregiving can be lonely. They need that friendly conversation that provides a little respite from their day to day. When it comes to invitations, be practical and realistic in what they can do. If you know that they can’t necessarily go away for the weekend, ask them what they want to do. Reach out frequently to let them know that you are there but in a way that they do not have to feel guilty declining. For example: “I’m going to grab something to eat at…I would love your company. If you aren’t up for it though, I’d be happy to drop something off to you on my way home instead.” Offer invitations – ideally with practical help when needed. Don’t lay guilt on your friend for declining. Sometimes caregivers are simply too fatigued to want to do anything at all. That does not mean that they don’t want to be remembered, invited and included. They need this now, more than ever.
We’re all unique humans. This is just a general guide. If you’re reading this, you may have someone in mind you want to support. Often, a caregiver just needs to know that you are standing by; that they are not alone. A text, a call, a card, a meal can all go a long way 🙂