BEANERY ONLINE LITERARY MAGAZINE
HOW TO GIVE SUPPORT TO CAREGIVERS
It’s not just about the person who has that disease (whatever it may be), but everyone who loves and cares for that person. —Leeza Gibbons*
In today’s world of expensive nursing home care, low or no insurance, and the worry of finding a good home for a loved one, more and more of us find ourselves becoming a caregiver in our own home.
I’ve found through my last five years, as my husband’s a caregiver, that often my friends will call to ask how he is, what he needs, if they can stop by to visit him. What they don’t think, or don’t realize, is that maybe they can help me too.
Care-giving is a non-stop job. It never ends—not when the person is asleep, not when they are in the hospital for something, not ever. The home caregiver and the patient are always one – they become one as both lives revolve around each other, totally dependent on each other. As a result, my friends who have lost their spouse, after care-giving them at home, find themselves completely lost for quite some time.
What I find helpful is if friends and family understand that the caregiver is not just someone who takes care of the ill person. The caregiver still exists as an individual, with needs of their own that often go unmet.
If it takes a town to raise a child, it surely takes a country to care for the ill.
Everyone, including you, knows someone who cares for an ill relative. And everyone, including you, can offer much more than help to the patient. You have the ability to lighten the burden of the caregiver, to realize that no matter how much they love the person they are caring for, it is a burden—one they grasp onto willingly, and with the hope that they are giving the best care to this person that they could ever get.
With this in mind, I have a few tips for those of you who visit a home where there is a caregiver.
First, when you
stop by, always ask how both people are feeling. Perhaps the caregiver just needs a moment to “vent,” and will feel free to do that with you.
Second, when you call the ill person’s home, ask the caregiver to meet you for coffee. If they say they can’t go out that day, why not ask if you could drop a cup of coffee by the house for them (maybe a bagel or donut too!)? Just because the caregiver can’t leave their home doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t love to have a cup of coffee they don’t have to make and clean up after!
Third, apply the coffee suggestion to lunch. Perhaps you could drop off that burger you invited the caregiver to go out to have, especially if you are traveling near their home.
Fourth, when you do visit the patient, don’t say “he/she doesn’t look sick at all!” I hear this about twice a week, and often my husband doesn’t appear to be having a difficult day. However, when you are not in the home 24/7 you don’t know what really goes on. In talking to other caregivers, they say the statement makes them feel like their friends think they are just making the situation up, so they clam up, unable to share things they need to get out, not bottle up. I don’t want sympathy, and certainly don’t need it. Neither does my husband. But understanding does not have to be sympathetic.
Fifth, do not hesitate to call. If I can’t talk on the phone, I’ll say so, but it’s nice for a caregiver to have that few minutes to talk, gossip, or just catch up on some news they haven’t had a chance to hear.
Sixth, if you are comfortable around the person who is ill, ask the caregiver if they need to run to the store or the post office while you visit. These are important errands, but the caregiver often isn’t leaving the patient alone to accomplish them. Alternatively, depending on the level of illness, the patient doesn’t think he/she needs anyone to stay with them. But if it’s a friend they are chatting with, they accept company quite happily.
Seventh, if it’s your parents who are in the caregiver role, realize that the spouse who is care-giving needs care too. I’ve found that children find it very difficult to watch a parent slowly slip away, so they tend to stay away. Your friendship can help them deal with the situation.
Leaning on each other is more important these days, but in the rush to get through each day, we sometimes forget to truly stop and smell the roses.
Eighth, continue to invite your caregiver friend, and even the patient, to events—parties, concerts, or gatherings of friends. While they may not often attend, they do when they are able to. I attend, as does my husband, events that involve our grandchildren. My husband enjoys them, and it’s a nice change for me.
Ninth, on the subject of children/grandchildren: let them visit, let them understand, and answer all questions about “why” grandpa/grandma doesn’t always know them, or can’t chase them around anymore. Caregivers will tell you that it’s not too much for children to understand. They are open and understanding, and simply accept what is before them.
Tenth, continue to treat your friend as a friend, your family member as a family member, instead of treating them as caregiver or patient. It’s not easy to look at someone who is ill and see them as they were, but its best for everyone.
Yes, the caregiver’s life is now centered on the one they love. But they still want to do and be a part of your life. Don’t shy away. Just jump in and enjoy the rocky ride with them!!
*10 Who Inspire, AARP, January/February 2010, pp. 28. Gibbons cofounded The Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation, which helps fund Leeza’s Place caregiver centers in five states.