Dear Mary
How to be a good friend to a caregiver.

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Dear Mary,

My friend Steven is now his Mother’s full time caregiver.  He is consumed with doing the best job he can for her.  This whole thing about caregiving is new to both of us.  How can I be a good friend to Steven?  I know he will need my support, can you give me some ideas please?

Pat

Hello Pat:

You are now part of Steven’s own circle of care.  As he spends more time and energy as a caregiver, he will become increasingly tired, stressed and truly needing support from his friends.  Here are some do’s and don’ts for you to consider.

 

DO

  1. Keep in touch.  Caregiving can be very lonely and isolating.  Make sure to keep in regular contact with your caregiving friends.  Don’t think that they are too busy to hear from you or that you are connecting with them at the wrong time.  Phone, send an email or even mailing a funny card will let them know that they are not alone and that there are people who care about them.
  2. Be a good listener. Sometimes caregivers just want to be heard.  Listening is a skill and it often requires little conversation. Allow caregivers to vent, babble and let off some steam.  Once they have gotten off their chests what has been bothering them or what the current crisis is all about, a final hug is really all that is required.
  3. Have empathy. According Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.”  Take the time to image what their lives are like, what their challenges are and then imagine how you would deal with these same issues.  Put yourself in their shoes whenever you have a conversation.  Your comments will be more respectful and kinder.
  4. Surprise your friend. Caregivers rarely think of themselves and the last thing they are expecting is a happy surprise.  Good surprises can be as simply as mailing them a $20 gift certificate for a local coffee shop, bringing over a cooked-ready to serve dinner or a more lavish gift such as a pedicure at a local spa. Big or small, all surprises are welcomed.  Your surprise will boost their spirits, bring a smile to their face and mostly let them know that they are not alone and that there are people who love and care for them.
  5. Say kind and comforting sentences such as:
  • Thank you for doing all you do.
  • I am coming over on Thursday afternoon to watch your Mother while you have a nap
  • I can’t image how hard it is for you to watch your Dad in so much pain.  I wish I were there to give you a big hug.
  • How is your loved one doing?
  • How are you doing?

 

DON’T

  1. Try and fix the situation. Supporting your caregiving friends does not mean that you are responsible for solving their problems or the situations that they are in.  These issues are out of your hands and may actually not be solvable.  Be aware that if you try and solve the situations, you may actually be complicated them, thus making things more difficult.
  2. Offer unsolicited advice or be critical. Don’t think that you add value to a caregiver by being critical or saying that you have better ways to do things. Keep your comments to yourself about how they are managing care, keeping the household up and in general what kind of job they are doing. You are not their boss or even their peer. Your “know it all” attitude will be met with resistance and will drive a wedge between you and the caregiver that may never be healed.  Instead, why not praise the caregiver for something that you genuinely think that they are doing well.
  3. Add to their guilt. Caregivers live with mountains of guilt, don’t make it worse by piling on more.  Telling or nagging a caregivers that they don’t spend enough time with their spouses, kids, friends, not being at work or even commenting that they don’t make as many home-made meals or keep the house or car as clean as before is not only unproductive, it is unsupportive, selfish and mean.
  4. Be a stranger. Don’t think that you are bothering a caregiver by phoning or dropping in.  This social interaction is absolutely critical to their well-being.  If you call at an inconvenient time and are asked to reschedule the call, don’t take it personally.  Caregivers when they have the time and energy are thrilled for outside contact and your phone call, email or dropping by in person might just be the best part of their day.
  5. Say unhelpful things, such as:
  • You have gained a little weight and what’s with those bags under your eyes?
  • God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.
  • Call me if I can help.   Note:  You need to be proactive – caregivers rarely seek out help.
  • What do you do all day?
  • You should get out more and take better care of yourself.

 

Try and incorporate as many of these tips into how you support your friend.  They are kind, loving and will help your friend’s caregiving journey.

 

Mary

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Caregiving Matters

Mary is a daughter. She also Chairs our charity. Mary has also held Director roles on three other boards, most recently with The Palcare Network of York Region.

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