What it Means to Be a friend to a Caregiver
A Friend In Need is a Friend Indeed:
What It Means to Be a Friend to a Caregiver
Usually I speak to the caregiver, but this article is about how to be a loving and caring friend to a caregiver in need—during the holidays and every day. In the midst of day-to-day confusion, sometimes it’s hard to recognize those needs of friends that are closest to us who would benefit from our support.
As a friend, you are an essential helpline. You may want to help, but not have a clue how to help. When the reality of a critical or even terminal illness invades the life of one of your family members or friends, how can you care for the caregiver? At no time in life are friends more valuable than when your world is encompassed with the shock and crisis of a life-changing event.
Here is the truth about my friends during my husband’s cancer battle that eventually took his life: I simply could not have survived without them. They were my constant. They were there to remind me that I was loved and that I was never alone.
There were many days when my friends literally kept me sane. I vividly remember one of the worst days, when my husband’s oncologist called me at work and told me that he had given up on Gordon. I asked if we should seek treatment elsewhere. He responded that it was now a “salvage operation.” I fell apart. My friend Becky immediately came to my aid, and helped me get out of the office without too much attention. She calmed me enough so that I was able to make it home without hitting a tree. What would have happened, if she had not been there to support me?
Here are some suggestions for helping a friend or family member who’s going through a crisis with a loved one:
Listen carefully for help signals.
It’s a lost art, but listening is important if you want to hear what your friend really needs. And, sometimes they don’t even know themselves. It’s easy if they say, “I haven’t had time to go out and get a single present!” In this example, why not go by their house right before you go out shopping and say, “I’m going to the mall today—is there something that I can get for you while I’m there?” Instead of just getting the gifts for them, make sure that you bring them back beautifully wrapped right up to the bow!
Conduct a reconnaissance mission.
You have to be a little sneaky. While you’re at your friend’s house, go to the refrigerator and get a bottle of water. Make note of what type of milk or juice they like. Sneak your way into the pantry—what staples do you notice? One of my friends brought me a big bag of groceries. That was a great idea! It was full of non-perishable items such as paper towels, toilet tissue, and other items that we all need. These tend to go quickly when there’s a higher than usual parade of people going through the house. Consider bringing by some supplies for the patient—alcohol swabs, lip balm, unscented skin moisturizer, hand sanitizer, a warm blanket—all these things are so useful.
Don’t wait to be asked to bring things.
People are sometimes too proud and self-sufficient to accept help when it’s offered. If you’re going to visit, why not take a pot of soup, casserole or muffins? These items can all be frozen and used later. Instead of asking the “can I” questions, state the intention: “I’m going to bring you some soup. What kind do you like?” This type of question takes away the necessity to ask for help.
Make sure that your friend is aware that you want to be helpful and involved.
Having a friend who volunteers and that you can depend on is critical. This doesn’t necessarily mean “clingy”—just call and visit often.
Friends have to be available for “consultation” 24/7.
Emotions don’t have regular hours, especially during the holidays. There are situations when the patient doesn’t like to see emotion in the caregiver, which means that the caregiver’s breakdown will have to be after hours. Being a true friend means having your “available” sign on—no matter what time it is.
Sometimes a hug is the best gift.
Love is a precious commodity every single day, especially if life seems to hold a lot of challenges. Remember that a gentle touch is very comforting, and saying the words “I care” never goes out of style.
In The Saving of Gordon: Lifelines to W-I-N Against Cancer, I included a “Wall of Dedication to My Girls.” This dedication came directly from my heart to all of the wonderful ladies that got me through the most trying times of my life. Since my situation ended tragically, my friends formed the cornerstones of rebuilding my life. I would not have been able to make it through the storm without them. This holiday season, try to remember the best gift that you can give a friend in need: a friend indeed.
The Saving of Gordon: Lifelines to W-I-N Against Cancer
(available at www.BasketofCare.com)
Based on Joni’s experience and years of research, this inspirational and informative book is designed to give families a fighting chance in their own cancer battle.
Would you like to send something special to someone that’s going through a health-related hardship this holiday season? Instead of a poinsettia or fruitcake, why not send them a Basket of Care? These baskets are lovingly designed by a cancer survivor, and chock full of items that will lend comfort. Care baskets include such items as warm blankets, angels, slipper socks, hope messages, note cards, and books by Joni Aldrich. Or what about a “Day at the Beach” basket for a child who is ill? A Basket of Care is just the way to say, “I care” over the holidays.