Keep a Friendship

How to Hang Onto Friends (and Which to Lose)
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Caregiving can be tough on friendships. Many of your old friends may not be able to relate to your new role and -- unsure what to say or do -- they avoid getting in touch. Others get tired of hearing about the demands of caregiving or your lack of availability.

Yet caregivers need, more than ever, the support of friends outside of their caring responsibilities. What helps?

  1. Make the effort yourself.
    In the middle of a care crisis, you won't be able to make calls or visits the way you once did. But over the long haul, you may need to force yourself to do these things, because friendships are built on give-and-take. Even if you can't be as available as you once were, your friends still want to hear your voice or see your face -- or even just hear from you in an occasional e-mail or text message.

  2. Rely on some easy rituals to help you stay connected.
    Sometimes regular commitments are easier to build into your schedule than spur-of-the-moment ones, because you can make plans for respite care. The rituals can be as simple as a standing Friday afternoon walk or a monthly book club date. If it's really hard to get away, invite your friend over -- he or she won't be expecting to be entertained; your company is what counts. Or try to involve your loved one, if possible -- to go and get ice cream together, for example.

  3. Self-impose limits on your venting.
    It's wonderful to have nonjudgmental pals with whom you can gripe a little. The caveat: Don't make griping -- or caregiving, period -- the sole focus of your talks. Agree in advance that you'll talk for 15 minutes about your current caregiving woes, then stop -- and set a timer. Or ask a friend to give you the equivalent of a weekly "get out of jail free" card: one phone call a month where you can just unload, no questions asked. This may help limit your negative interactions while giving you a chance to de-stress every so often.

  4. Keep the ebb and flow nature of friendships in perspective.
    You may have a hard time being a good friend at the moment, but think back to when you were starting a job or had young kids. Sometimes we need more from close friends, and sometimes they need more from us. Caregiving is a phase in which you build a friendship debt with your best pals -- and you can give it back, later.

  5. Know, too, that not all friendships survive caregiving.
    Let's face it: Many friendships are superficial or circumstantial -- they may thrive in bright times, but when the situation is a little darker, you may discover that you have less in common than you thought, or that you know one another less well. Some people are freaked out by the demands of eldercare; some demand high levels of maintenance themselves. Chalk it up to life, and don't take these lost causes personally.


6 months ago, said...

I find myself in the lonely box right now. Finishing or returning and finishing undergrad school. my life is all study, no play. My children on the other side of the country. Back in school after my home burned last year. I miss my children, and def. lonesome.. What''s wrong with me?? Another Christmas, people are funny, " the kids should understand? really, they are 14 and 10, no they need to be kids, as well.. Sorry Emotional as it says!! Another Christmas, LorD!


almost 2 years ago, said...

I do believe that when one is caring for an elderly, failing loved one - the reason friends often will shy away, or maybe change the manner in which they have related in the past is simple: they themselves, are uneasy with a situation that, may unconsciously, remind THEM of their own mortality. I see it all the time at the nursing home and I have mentioned it before. My friend Kitty at end stage AD now no longer recognizes me. I just returned from visiting her a few hours ago at the home. While I miss the way she used to relate to me, I don't grieve excessively, because our friendship was so deep, so rich, and multidimensional all those years. And sitting by her bed, as she half dozed...remembering the warm glow of our many occasions of cooking together, laughing together, reading, listening to music, looking after our pets - well, it's like having a wonderful 'foto album' right by my side. And fortunately for me there is a third person - another dear woman friend who lives three doors down from my building. Thelma also knew Kitty for years as well. So, in a strange way...the triangle of shared history is still maintained, even with this devastating illness in the picture. And having friends in common who recall Kitty too, and love her as I do - well, that really helps to cope. I count myself blessed.


over 2 years ago, said...

Our isolation is a blessing and a curse. We isolate to protect ourselves from the rejection. When the answer is always "No, I can't, I wish I could, maybe another time, you just stop asking. I have found that I no longer expect anything from anyone and with this I'm no longer let down, and happy for what I do get. Isolation and resignation, a blessing and a curse, I'm blessed to no longer feel that pain and cursed, that the isolation increases the loneliness. As always, blessings, hugs and peace to all of us on this journey... Roger


over 2 years ago, said...

It does confirm what I already know...


about 3 years ago, said...

Caregiving takes mega-time and not everyone is up to the task; that is of being the friend of a caregiver. I have lost several people that I thought were good friends, but well . . .


about 3 years ago, said...

#5 = understanding about the fact that some people are freaked out by caregiving and not to take it personally. #4 - Keeping the ebb and flow of current friendships and venting for short time periods. Need to do that with one friend in particular. Thanks,


almost 4 years ago, said...

Mimm said it! I'm exactly where she is and send her many, many hugs and light thoughts.


almost 4 years ago, said...

Like a tree in autumn, they fall away and no friends to replace them. Here's a song for all of us single caregivers: "Kiss me once and kiss me twice and kiss me once again, It's been a long, long time."


almost 4 years ago, said...

Trying to maintain friendships is stressful in itself.


almost 4 years ago, said...

Practical. Specific. Honest...not all friendships can survive caregiving. TImely.


about 4 years ago, said...

In my case, I have found that a certain degree of isolation can be a useful coping mechanism. Yes, caretaking needy family members (in my case both of my abusive, demented parents and my only sibling, my older sister who is an alcholic) not only leaves less time and energy to care take friendships, I have no desire to. I would agree that it's not good to get too isolated, but who needs so called "friends" who cannot even reach a hand out or pick up the telephone or even send an email to call once in a while if they know you are going through hell? Yes, this can be a good time to find out who your friends really are (if you didn't already know) and let go of those people for whom you have become nonexistent. For me, that has been just about everyone except my husband. And not only do you find out who your friends are but who your enemies are too. In my case my own family members are my worst enemies. By always being there to help them, I have ruined my own life and I wish I had just cut off contact with them a long time ago. At any rate, after my attempts to reach out to people, I have found that I am better off being isolated. The last thing I want is to burdon people with my sorrows and horror stories. I know that they don't want to hear it; you only have to look at their faces to see that. I am so depressed that I know I'm not fit to be seen in public, too, so I try to keep behind closed doors most of the time these days so as not to bring people down. After all, I wouldn't want to offend anyone with my gloomyness and ruin people's nice day.


about 4 years ago, said...

Hanging onto friends is really difficult when so busy all the time. Thanks,


about 4 years ago, said...

I think at times like this, we (as care givers, and the Alzheimer sufferer) learn to know who our real friends are.


about 4 years ago, said...

The term "caregovomg" is used incorrectly. There are caregivers, who look after their mothers, fathers, etc. and there are prof.caregivers. But after trying to understand your use I realized you meant "close friends", but I do think your description of caregivers was not used properly.


about 4 years ago, said...

Caregiving for my husband, my 93 year old mother, (partly for) my eldest son whose spine has been "fixed" rigid with metal rods, and the pain of only being allowed to see our 4 grandchildren (from my younger son) once or twice/year although they live nearby, cost me a 40+ year old friendship. My own fault! At one stage I "flipped" and I now I cannot remember lots of things that happened since then; whole days have disappeared from my memory. I did too much "leaning" on this friend and one day she sent me an e-mail saying: "farewell!". I was devastated. It felt like a bereavement. For days I agonized whether I should try to explain to her what happened and to say sorry, but in the end I decided that I might unknowingly lean too heavily on her again because husband is not going to get better, on the contrary; mother will (hopefully) get older and will need me more, son N°1's back is getting worse with arthritis and the situation with the grandchildren will not get better as long as they are not independent. I wronged the person in question and I think I should never lean on her again, although it was absolutely not way way traffic, quite the opposite because during all those years I went really far out of my way to help her every which way. I have decided not to burden her again because it is obviously too much for her. I miss the way she was before the farewell-e-mail but I have grin and bear it and move on. Luckily I am blessed with several friends and amazingly enough we seem to get more friends as my husband's condition gets worse. I cannot believe how many people suggest to take my husband here, there and everywhere and look after him left, right and center. We are so blessed and we must have some pretty cool guardian angels!


about 4 years ago, said...

Some friends just can't cope with other people's adversity. When your friend backs away, or looks away, when you come into view, there is a message which says, "I just can't deal with what you're going through." Time to get a new friend no matter how long the friendship has been. You deserve better.


about 4 years ago, said...

Your friends are your most precious possessions. Be careful you don't lean on them to heavily. Your real friends will respect you for your courage.and sacrifice. Wonderful article.


about 4 years ago, said...

I LIKED THE PART THAT SAID MAYBE THIS PERSON WASN'T MUCH OF A FRIEND TO START WITH.....I HAVE TWO PEOPLE IN MY LIFE(HAD)(ONE WENT BY THE WAYSIDE)....I HAVE KNOWN BOTH OF THESE PEOPLE 30+ YEARS...I HAVE BEEN A CAREGIVER FOR MANY YEARS FOR DIFFERENT PEOPLE .THESE 2 LADIES HAVE ALSO BECOME CAREGIVERS , ONE TO HER MOTHER AND THE OTHER ONE WAS A CAREGIVER TO HER MOTHER BEFORE SHE PASSED AND AT THE SAME TIME TO HER HUSBAND.....I LOST THE LADY THAT IS CARING FOR HER MOTHER FOR SEVERAL REASONS(ALL OF WHICH WERE MY FAULT ACCORDING TO HER)...BUT I WAS ABLE TO KEEP THE ONE THAT ACTUALLY TURNED OUT TO BE THE BETTER FRIEND..IT SEEMS NO MATTER HOW LONG IT IS BETWEEN CALLS OR VISITS....WE USUALLY PICK UP RIGHT WHERE WE LEFT OFF WITH NO AWKWARDNESS AT ALL...


about 4 years ago, said...

During the 3 years of Mother's illness, I did nothing but manage her care, go to work, take care of the pets, keep up with financial matters and home care, watch tv and sleep. There was no question of trying to have a personal social life. I often did not respond to letters and calls, and felt no guilt about that. Mother's welfare was all I thought about. I was grateful that I had no other demands on me and no one could second guess my decisions. My 3 siblings had made it clear they had no interest in Mother and her problems, -- heartbreaking for her. After she died I rebuilt my social life. My old friends were still there; I reconnected with them and went on with life.


about 4 years ago, said...

This gave me so many rays of hope and direction today. Thank you for this awesome and wonderful article, and the tips on preserving my friendships. It really helps.