If you’re like me, you have “FRIENDS” and then you have “friends”. Caregivers recognize the real, the capital letter “FRIENDS” quite quickly. As a caregiver said to me recently, “I had several friends who started out on the road with me in my early days of caregiving, but now there are fewer and fewer and I feel quite lonely sometimes.” Unfortunately, this story is one I hear often and one that I experienced first hand.
So how can we caregivers shore up our support and fill in the gaping holes in our circles of support? Building a circle of support in the first place, a circle that includes family, friends, and professionals like clergy and medical personnel is critical. As time goes on, some of these people will, as the comment above demonstrates, fall away from supporting you as they did in the beginning.
Consider, as you continue to build and replenish your circle, some of the following questions. As I write these questions, some of them seem obvious and yet, for me, it’s taken some effort to really put them into practice.
Do I have a person(s) who helps me laugh and who sees humor in the day to day living, working, and caregiving? Who can see humor in a torn medical patch or a half eaten meal? A friend who can is a FRIEND indeed! Is there someone who suggests a movie or is there to watch Saturday Night Live or a British comedy on PBS? Keep them close.
Do I have a person(s) who listens to my issues without jumping to judgment? We all have some friends who are ready to demonstrate why their problem is bigger, larger, more complicated and who are quick to say, “You should have done it this way.” You need “FRIENDS” who give you the time and space to talk.
Do I have a person(s) who understands why I feel the way I do without telling me not to feel that way? When I say, “I’m feeling guilty and not up to this today”, the real FRIEND will understand with comforting words like, “It’s ok to feel that way”. We don’t need people who tell us that we shouldn’t feel a certain way.
Do I have a person(s) with whom I can be vulnerable by sharing deepest fears, longings, disappointments, and successes? One of my dear friends confided to me, “I’m not sure I can do this much longer. The marriage is falling apart because my husband doesn’t appreciate how I care for him.” The real Friend will keep comments like this in confidence and will say, “I support you, so whatever you need, I’m there for you.”
Do I have a variety of friends/family members who represent a wide range of interests? Not having a wide range of friends with a variety of interests was one of the biggest mistakes I made. Enlarging your caring community to include a broader range of perspectives can help keep you in perspective. Seek out people who look at the world differently and have different interests, particularly interests that feed the soul like crafts, arts, gardening. I am not a gardener but I have FRIENDS who dig in the soil!
Filling your CIRCLE OF SUPPORT with “FRIENDS” is ongoing. I hope the questions posed in this article provide you with benchmarks for keeping your circle strong and supportive.
To get more information on enriching your caregiving experience, listen to Margery Pabst’s radio interview here.
Margery Pabst is the co-author of Enrich Your Caregiving Journey ,the winner of the 2010 “Caregiver Friendly Award”. Margery is eCareDiary’s caregiving expert. She writes for eCareDiary’s Expert Q/A and is the host of “Caregiver and Physician Conversations” (part of eCareDiary’s “Empowering Family Caregivers”) which airs the last Tuesday of each month at 2PM EDT. Margery also is the author of “Ask the Caregiving Coach” and is a national speaker on “Storytelling” and “Self-Care for Caregivers”. Find out more about Margery Pabst at www.pivotalcrossings.com.
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