I guess one thing almost all of us can agree on is that life isn’t easy. It’s beautiful, amazing, full of gifts and surprises – and tough. On any given day, every area of our lives can have its own to do list a mile long: Family, Friends, Career, Household, Health, Community… the list is pretty much endless.
Now add to that an unexpected turn of events that leaves us caring for someone else and it’s quite likely that we move from a busy and perhaps tough-to-manage life to what seems impossible. Caring for another human being, especially an older loved one who is ill or simply unable to care for themselves, brings not only its own set of daily tasks to add to one’s list – it creates an outbound flow of energy and caring that can be exhausting.
When we see someone we love take on this role, the role of care provider, we can often see what they do not. We can see the toll it takes on them and the stress it puts on their family and household. Even if they take on that role with a flourish of love and pride, which is often the case, the outpouring of emotions and the hard work can be overwhelming.
So what are we to do to support a friend or loved one in that position? Or what do we do to get that support if it’s US in that spot?
#1. To begin with an open line of communication is worth its weight in gold. There’s no way for anyone to read your mind – and often, we do a magnificent job of looking like we’ve got it all under control. Be sure to share – and ask for – the real story. When someone asks, “How are you managing,” resist the impulse to say “Fine.” Most of us are very sincere when we ask a caregiver how they are. We know the burden they’ve taken on, and naturally wish to support them. Allow yourself to be honest about what’s happening on any given day. Keep those lines of communication open to your own support network – and if it’s a friend or loved one in the situation, offer them that insight. Sometimes simply having someone to listen is all we really need.
#2. When in doubt, do something. If you’re watching someone you love struggle under the burden of care providing, trust your instincts. Even if they SAY they’re fine, if your heart says they aren’t, do something. There’s no way to offer here, in this article, what would be appropriate for anyone’s specific situation, but the list of small things is limitless: Bring a meal (obvious, but always helpful), offer childcare or playdates so the care provider can focus on their patient – or themselves, bring a care package of books or music, offer to do the laundry (that’s the real test of friendship you know – who will I let do my laundry!), offer to step in and spend time with the patient. If their caregiving or medical needs are complicated, sometimes just being there to keep them company allows the care provider to regroup for a little while.
#3. Be in it for the long haul. Care providing often comes on suddenly, utterly without warning, and it can last, literally, for years. Just because the caregivers develop a routine does not mean that they couldn’t use a break – or an ear. Or perhaps you make a new friend who’s been providing care for someone – don’t be afraid to ask about their story or inquire how you can support them.
Finally, I just want to say that like many of us, I’ve been on both sides of this equation, and while we, as human beings, adjust beautifully to even the toughest situations, there’s nothing in this world like the love and kindness of those around us. Don’t be afraid to let someone be there for you – or to reach out, intrude, and be there for them.
To your health and well being,
Co-Founder of eCareDiary.com
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