Hello friends of family caregivers! I’m glad you joined the conversation. Welcome!
I decided to write this blog because I’ve personally been on both ends of the caregiving continuum and I want to pass along what I’ve learned. For me, this subject matter falls under life’s heading: “If I knew then what I know now…” You see, unlike most other life events, caregiving offers little to no clear path for how to help our friends and family members in this position – that is beyond participating in meal trains and saying things like: “Let me know if you need anything.” While both are engaging, they tend to either wane after about two weeks or produce no real, tangible ways of helping. In this blog, I discuss three ways any friend or family member can truly offer help for caregivers for that special person in their life.
A Dose Of Reality
But before we dive into the ways you can offer help for caregivers, it’s important to establish a baseline truth and face a harsh reality which is this: Life for the family caregiver has suddenly, and perhaps without warning, changed significantly. Most caregivers don’t even realize how significant the change is until they are well into the caregiving experience. So, if you truly want the relationship to remain intact, all of the work is going to be on you – for now.
If this doesn’t seem fair or if you know you aren’t able to make that kind of commitment, no judgement – do what you have to do. But, please, don’t vilify the caregiver. Recognize you are at different points in your respective lives and graciously move on. However, if you choose to move forward and venture through this unknown life transition with your friend/family member, please understand most of their time and energy will be attending to the significant needs of their loved one. They love you and are grateful for your help, they just won’t have much left over to actively reciprocate. At least not initially.
So, how can you actively help?
Identify Time To Help
Tip #1: Once a month, identify multiple days/times when you are available to do anything the caregiver needs you to do. It doesn’t have to be a whole day or even half a day, two or three hours would be greatly appreciated. Next, ask the caregiver to identify a time slot that works best for them. Think about doing things like; helping them cook meals for the week, organize an appointment calendar, fill up their car with gas, make phone calls on their behalf, do their yard work, run errands, or just hang out with them.
Be forewarned though, the caregiver might say: “I’m fine.” or “I can’t think of anything for you to do.” I’m telling you this is likely due to 1 of 3 things – lack of sleep, not wanting to put you out, or feeling awkward about having you do these things for them. In this instance, consider saying something like this:
“Sometimes people are uncomfortable accepting help and if that’s where you are right now, I will respect it. I will continue checking in and offering my time so when you are more comfortable, you’ll know I’m still available to help.”
Eventually they will take you up on your offer and will be eternally grateful you respectfully and patiently persisted.
Be Specific With Your Help For Caregivers
Tip #2: Be specific with your offer to help. It’s natural and normal to say, “Let me know if you need anything.” We’ve all done it, myself included. It’s like we are biologically programmed to say this when someone is in need. Instead, take some time to think of three specific things you can (really!) do for the caregiver. If you recognize you have just said, “Let me know…”, follow it up with something like this:
“Scratch that, you have a lot going on. I’m going to think of three things I can do for you. I will text/email/call you later this afternoon/evening with what I can do and my availability to do them. I sincerely hope you take me up on one or more of them as I truly want to help.”
If you need help identifying specific actions, think about what you are good at or enjoy doing. I guarantee the caregiver can benefit from it. No real and genuine offer to help or spend time together is too small or insignificant – really! If all else fails, take a look at the sample ideas provided in tip #1.
Find A Way To Stay Connected
Tip #3: Find a way to stay connected with the caregiver. If they aren’t comfortable asking for or accepting in-person help right now, respect their space but stay engaged. Here is a sample list of things you can do.
- Text them once a week without any expectation of getting a text back.
- Call them and leave voicemails every so often without any expectation they will call you back.
- Every couple of weeks drop off a greeting card, gift card, or hand written note in their mailbox.
- Raise money for them so they can hire respite care for a few hours, once a month. If you didn’t already know, respite care is identified as one of the top needs of family caregivers.
- Don’t let their support circle disintegrate. Organize a group of friends willing to stay engaged via text, email, and phone.
Engaging in any or all of these options for providing help for caregivers will require careful thought on your part, it’s a big undertaking no doubt. I encourage you, though, to step into the unknown and walk this journey side by side with the family caregiver in your life. Be the friend they don’t know they need, but now, you do.