Dear Mary
You’ve Got A Friend.

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Dear Mary,

My friend is engulfed in caregiving. Her mother is totally bed ridden, blind and cannot walk anymore. Her sister is extremely ill with Lime Disease. How can a help my friend. She is putting on a brave face, but I know that there must be ways for me to help.

Sharon

 

Mary BartHi Sharon:

The lyrics from James Taylor’s song, “You’ve Got A Friend” reminds us of how important and lucky we are to have friends. As caregivers, it is our friends who often keep us going, keep us sane and keep us from being isolated from society.   Knowing and understanding the power of social supports from our friends cannot be under estimated. The challenge for many caregivers is how to stay socially engaged with our friends.

Let’s take a look at why we need friends and how to maintain friendships during our caregiving journeys. To be begin with, friends are the family we choose for ourselves. We get to pick our friends, they are not relationships that come with marriage or other family ties. Friends give us their unique, honest perspectives, opinions and openly share their wisdoms with us. With friends you often don’t have to explain much, they just get it. Friends share common interests, ideas and often life situations and experiences. Friends know our embarrassing moments and our moments of pure hilarity. Friends offer love, support and complement who we are. Friends promote positive moods and optimism while also helping us to manage stress, loss or trauma. Friends often bring out a side of us than has been tucked away and even forgotten. Friends are fun. Friends support and encourage playful freedoms in our lives. And finally friendships give us a sense of security, belonging and community that are outside of our caregiver roles and responsibilities.

It is very easy for caregivers to become totally consumed and absorbed in caregiving. Spending too much time as a caregiver is not only physically unhealthy, but can lead to caregiver burnout, stress and depression. Remember that you are important and in order to be a good caregiver, you must also be good to yourself. I firmly believe that caregivers need to “escape” with their friends in order to create or maintain some life balance, perspective, a sense of humour and personal worth. Here are some ideas that will help you to stay socially engaged and enjoying your friends.

  • Call a friend – yes the telephone is the easiest way to stay connected. Even brief calls with friends will remind you that there is a world outside of your caregiving
  • Exercise with a friend – There is nothing like a “Walk and a talk” to rejunivate yourself
  • Movie night with a friend. Either go out to the movie or rent one at home
  • Lunch or coffee with a friend.
  • Invite a friend over to help sort through a cupboard or two. Great conversations and fun can happen by doing basic household chores.
  • Join a club or group that you and your friend are both interested in. Perhaps it is a book club, cooking club or a new hobby.
  • Have “Pedicure For Two”. Many day spas can accommodate giving two pedicures side-by-side at the same time. What a treat to be pampered and get caught up with a friend!
  • If your friend does not live close by, use the Internet to stay in touch. Skyping is a great way to have an instant long distant visit. It lets you see your friend on the computer screen and have a great laugh and talk.
  • Accept social invitations. If you are invited to a party, go. It will lighten your stress and you will hear how others are doing in their lives. Interacting with others is the key to survival.
  • Keep connected with a group of friends by joining Facebook or some other social media site.

Here are to 10 simple tips on how to be a good friend to a caregiver.

  1. Say “What can I do to help?” Caregivers are often overwhelmed and simply knowing that you are offering help will make them feel less isolated. If your caregiving friend does not answer your question, get more specific. Offer two choices, such as: Can I bring over a cooked meal or help with some laundry?   Both are great ideas, both will be appreciated.
  2. Drop off food. This could be something that is homemade or even picking up a cooked chicken from the grocery store adds value. Frozen meals are often the best ideas because they can be used when needed.
  3. Offer your gift of time. Caregivers are often not just caregiving, but maintaining households too. Offer to help with vacuuming, cleaning out the refrigerator or simply sitting with the care recipient while the caregiver takes an extra-long shower.
  4. If your caregiver friend is long distance from you, send them treats. Mail a gift card for a local spa or a CD of the caregiver’s favorite music. Even a simple card in the mail with some pictures of you and your dog will bring a smile to any caregiver’s face. Your kindness across the miles will be appreciated and remembered.
  5. Don’t judge. If you think that their decisions are wrong, refrain from sharing your opinions. You are not living their life and what they face on a daily bases. You are not in their shoes.
  6. Don’ts share your own caregiving horror stories. The caregiver does not need more depressing caregiving stories. This is not a competition to see who has the best caregiving nightmare stories. Instead, share stories that are fun, crazy and make your friend laugh.   There is nothing better than laughing with a friend.
  7. Invite your friend out, perhaps for a game of golf or go to a concert. Plan a few things for the near future and a couple of outings for the longer term. Caregiving changes over time and even if the caregiver may have to cancel at the last minute, it will give the caregiver something to look forward to. Something special that does not involve caregiving.
  8. Be a good listener. Often caregivers need to vent, cry and just let their feeling go. Listening to a caregiver does not mean that you have to solve their problems. It means you care enough to just listen and acknowledge their feelings.
  9. Don’t think that you are bothering your friend, or that they are too busy to hear from you. Your friend may only be able to have a brief chat with you, but even one minute on the phone will let the caregiver know that they are not forgotten.
  10. Don’t take it personally, if your caregiving friend does not call you or reach out to you on a regular bases. Know that they are most likely dealing with a lot of stress and pressure and may not have the physical or emotional strength for one more thing in their day. When they are able, they will reach out to you. Assume that you should be the first one to reach out to them on an on-going bases.

 

Wendy and Mary in FloridaMeet my best friend Wendy:

Wendy and I first met when we were 5 years old. We went to the same schools and church. When I became the principal caregiver to my parents, Wendy was always there for me. Although we lived in different cities I knew I could count on her. Our phone calls kept me going. Wendy checked in regularly with me. She knew the time of day to catch me at home and always knew what to say. She would listen to my stories, acknowledged my tears and found ways to make me laugh, often all in the same phone call. Unfortunately shortly after the deaths of my parents, Wendy was diagnosed with cancer. Our friendship grew even stronger. Now it was my turn to help her. As part of her circle of care, she knew she could count on me to help with her hospital visits and knew that I would do everything in my power to help make her life easier and better. Now that Wendy is gone, I often look back to our caregiving journeys. We had each other’s back, each other’s heart and mostly we just had each other, that is the power of friendships.

Friends are irreplaceable, Wendy is irreplaceable.

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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