What words of support can I offer a friend who's a family caregiver?

17 answers | Last updated: Nov 13, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

I'm emailing back and forth with an old friend who suddenly finds himself a caregiver to his wife who had a stroke a few months ago and is slowly recovering but far from out of the woods. He openly admitted at first that he was on an emotional roller coaster, but hasn't mentioned anything of the sort since. I'm trying not to repeat the old platitudes caregivers hear repeatedly, but I don't quite know what I SHOULD say--is it better to stay "light" and fun, and offer a distraction, or...?


Expert Answers

Maria Basso Lipani writes a popular website on geriatric care topics, where she puts her expertise as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker to good use answering care planning questions. Maria is a graduate of Columbia University School of Social Work and is licensed in California and New York.

It’s been my experience that caregivers welcome distractions, especially the funny kind, as much as they welcome counsel when the emotional roller coaster ride becomes overwhelming. I happen to think that those who can provide both kinds of support make the best kind of friends. That said, don’t feel pressure to choose one approach with your e-mails. Instead, follow your friend’s lead by responding to whatever he throws out to you as genuinely as you can. For example, if you cannot begin to imagine how tough “x” must be for him, then say just that. The more genuine you are, the more support you’ll convey even if you feel that you don’t have any answers. This should take the guesswork out of things for you and allow your friend to be himself knowing you can be a source of support no matter what kind of day he’s having.


Community Answers

Redhatprincess answered...

Great question. That you bother to ask tells me that you are the kind of friend to have in this situation. As a person who is caring for my husband, the best friend is one who fulfills the scriptural command to weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh. And, yes, both of those are me on any given day. As Ms. Lipani already said, followyour friend's lead andbe sensitive tohis tone in his e-mails.One of the least helpful things, in my own experience, is the friend who is eager to tell you every horror story she's ever heard about Parkinson's and its progression. It may surprise some people to know that those of us dealing with PD or some other disease have probably read every word on the subject that they can find and have far more knowledge than they know what to do with. Hearing someone else's horrific experience does not encourage us - or should I say that it doesn't encourage me. Since you seem to have a distance relationship with your friend, may I offer a few suggestions that have helped me. I love getting random cards and notes. E-mail is great but there's nothing quite like getting a card in your mailbox. A friend gave mea gift certiciate to a local restaurant with a note to take a friend and spend some me time relaxing. Another friend comes by one afternoon a week to sit with my husband. Another friend calls sometimes just to day she's thinking about me and wanted to let me know. Any gesture, however small, is such an encouragement because it means someone cares. The friend who will listen and allow me to vent without judging me is an angel. Thanks for being a friend.


Ca-claire answered...

As a caregiver for both my husband(severe stroke), and my parents (88 and beginning dementia), what is most helpful to me is just being able to do a verbal dump of all that is going on.  The last thing I usually want to hear is advice.  The most helpful things that friends have done is ask questions, which may cause me to see what is happening in a different perspective.

They say that sometimes you are too close to a problem to see a solution, well, caregiving is about as close as you can get.  Seeing things from other perspecitves is invaluable.  You may be helping your friend do this with just being an email support.  Continue what you're doing, and most of all continue to ask how your friend is - every one always asks about the person being cared for - few ask how the caregiver is.

Best of wishes to you.


Joyg answered...

I have asked friends that are far away to send cards as well.  I ask for the musical cards or better yet, those where they can record a voice message.  Coffee shop gift cards are great too.  And like the above answer, always ask how the caregiver is doing, that's is one reason he is calling.  He wants people to care about his health and his well being.  Keep encouraging him to take good care of himself with time off.  Teach him to ask a friend for a specific request, like, would you stay with Sally while I go play golf?  When we are specific more people will say yes.


Spockula answered...

Yes, it's good to hear that folks are thinking of you. Even better, when they offer to give some respite! Life is hard. Nice to have people to relate to! & yes, misery loves company!


Daughter ann answered...

Everyone has had something special to add.  The idea of a snail mail communication is excellent because it can be shared with the one who is stricken.   I care for my mother (94) and it is wonderful when someone sends a card or note to read to her.  It gives me a feeling of being worthwhile when she smiles,  (I can give you lots of tips on making Mom smile, but this thread is about the CG).   

You might ask him if he participates in any forums,  if he needs links, there are many.  One of my favorites is ECO.  Not a large amount of activity compared to some, but..

 http://eldercare.infopop.cc/eve

Laughter is great medicine, so are distractions as mentioned.  "17 year old sails around the world alone"  "cat survives trip in cargo area of jet and reunited with owner".  There is a youtube of a performance of thunder and rain the is phenominal.  I don't like to rub it in that life goes on while you are stuck on hold, but it is nice to know that life goes on.

As mentioned before, encouragement to say what you need to people is great.  It will seperate the true friends from the bums.  I made it a New Years resolution 2 years ago that if someone said "call if you need anything"  I would call (maybe they would be bluffing, maybe not.  If anyone said, "Can I help you with that?" I would say thankyou, yes you can.     I am no longer plagued by phonies.  That really helps.

Since you are e-mailing,   I guess you are not in a position to drop by with a cassarole and a salad.  but can you send a gift certificate to a good take out place that will deliver?  If this were one of my girl friends, I would send a scented candle and some extravegant bath oil.  (Big hint to take a mini vacation)  There must be something of the sort for a man. 

Some friends have sent me links to special needs cooking sites.  That has been a godsend.  Finger foods, soft foods, smoothies, 

If he doesn't talk about it at all, he may already be counting on you as one place to go that isn't about her and strokes.  Or he may be afraid to run you off.   We all know how fast "friends" take to the hills when we turn care giver.  From time to time, do ask .  He needs to know you are there for all of it as he needs it.

 

  

 

 


Joyg answered...

daughter ann had great ideas!  For a man suggestion:  a trip to a real barber where they give shaves.  They use hot towels, massage, etc. before and after which is luxury.  I used to take my husband there as a "gift" before he moved  to memory support.  Also gift certificates for a massage!


A fellow caregiver answered...

I tend to agree with everyone!  E-mails are helpful, and as one said keep them, fun, light and cheerful.  It would be nice also to send an appropriate card to the loved one.  If you think a phone call would help, do that, too.  Any think you do for that person is good!  Good Luck!

 

 


Kathporter answered...

I was moved when one of my friends said to me "what you are doing for your mother is a work of love. She is lucky to have someone like you." The recognition that she gave me was all I needed to keep me going.


Joyg answered...

This is what I tell meself and share with others: "As a Care Partner I am the love of God in action." Joy Golliver

You, Kathporter, are Gods Love In Action!


Me too answered...

I'm the primary caregiver to my 79 yo mother who suffered a stroke. Life now pulls me in so many different direction. It is especially good to hear from someone who really cares to support me genuinely. The best thing I like to hear is honesty from another person. Another big help is with cleaning house. A great unexpected gift would be a house cleaning service gift certificate. It is one less thing to worry about in life -- house cleaning! I haven't yet to receive one and I doubt I'll ever receive one, but it is a thought that's crossed my mind. A gift I would truly need and appreciate. Thanks all for sharing.

Take care of yourselves.


Joyg answered...

I love your idea and wish I could provide it for you. Since that is probably impossible, know that I will try to provide it for someone else and I will definately pass along your wonderful idea in my Caregiving workshops.


Ca-claire answered...

I know it's difficult to be a caregiver, but try to find some joy each day. My husband (stroke survivor) passed away 5 weeks ago from complications post open heart surgery, and there is so much I am thankful for with him, but also many things that I wish I had let slide by. His passing has also put my parents (88 and early dementia) into a faster downward slide - stroke he had 3 years ago started a downward slide for them, it's now worse.


Cccarter2005 answered...

Well, this is too everyone! I guess altho I knew there was SO many of us carefivers it never really hit home. But I must say I must give my most gratuide to the older womena nd men who are caring for thier spouses--God bles you! It is one thing to be young and physically able but to do allthis on your own when you are older must be ...I do not even know the word ...DEDICATED? Is tht even beginning to express how lucky your mate is to have you?? No, I don't think it does, God Bless each and every one of you! Carol


Spockula answered...

Thanks to all who relate & understand. I'm glad we have this site to express our feelings, vent, & share thoughts/advice. It's hard to "care"...but, it's life/love. Hopefully, someone will be there for us when "that" time comes.


Redhatprincess answered...

As I was reading these posts again, I remembered something my husband used to say (before Parkinson's) - a card is good, a phone call is better, a visit is best. I would add that e-mail is good too. That applies to caring for the caregiver, as well as the one being cared for. If all you can do is e-mail because of time and distance, that is good. If you are close enough to take the caregiver out for lunch and a movie, shopping, etc. that is just wonderful. Things that have been done for me recently that mean so much: my adult son took over vacuuming my house and making sure the trash is out on trash day, my daughter has twice in the last month made a girls day out date with me, my friend who lost her husband to Parkinson's e-mailed me to go to lunch (I love talking to her - I can voice all my fears and problems with no reservation). If you know someone who is going through the same trial you are, you can probably help one another immensely. That's the one place you can be certain of being understood. I pray for all of us. Joy, I like your post. I think of it as being God's hands and feet here on this earth.


Redhatprincess answered...

This whole experience beginning in August 2009 when my caregiving journey began has taught me many life lessons. One is to take care of my business now while I can. I purchased long term care insurance for me and am working hard to pay off all debt so my children won't have to deal with so many of the things that my husband's and my parents did not or were not able to do for themselves. In II Corinthians 12:14, it says "Children shouldn't have to look out for their parents; parents look out for the children." The Message. I am busy looking out. That includes keeping my clutter under control. If you have never cleaned out the home of a hoarder, you are truly blessed. Been there, done that as they say. Hardest physical task I've ever undertaken and one I don't wish on anyone. We're in this together, fellow caregivers. I am challenged to pray for you daily.