My Aunt Rita cared for her son who had multiple health needs. She kept him home instead of having him live in a group home. I remember heading down West Shore Road for the cursory visit – I surely didn’t want to be there – especially when it was football season and there were games to be watched! Nevertheless, as the dutiful nephew, I’d make my appearance. We’d talk weather, local news – it seemed like the same conversation each time.
Thank God she had a dog, so there was always a spontaneous occurrence that lent a meaningful topic to our conversation. At last it came time to go, after four or five attempts with a deep sigh and a, “Well, I should be running…” There were always the same three things that would happen on the way to the door. First, of course, was the kiss on the cheek. Second was the goodbye to the dog. “I’ll see YOU soon you fluffer-fluffer you” as I aggressively scratched beneath his chin. And then third and finally I’d look Aunt Rita in the eye (with the remainder of my body out the door) and I’d say, “Let me know if you need anything at all.” We both knew (as I jogged down the driveway towards the car) that the offer was nothing more than a formality. Little did I know how difficult those days were for her, and how powerful my visit COULD have been.
So here are some helpful tips for those of you visiting a full time caregiver in your role as family or friend or care professional in a person’s home.
Lend an Ear
Be willing to really listen to the needs of the caregiver. Listening is a skill – and not one that is easily acquired. It means shutting off the television, the phone, the distracting thoughts, and HEAR what they have to say both through their mouths and in their body language. Be willing to be a sounding board – not that you have to, or are able to, solve their problems – but you can LISTEN to them and be empathetic to their struggles.
Lend your Words
Everyone needs praise, and oftentimes the caregiver doesn’t get it. Who is there to say thank you, or great job? Where is the raise that comes along with an excellent performance evaluation? As a friend, lend some praise for who they are, for the benefit of the work that they do, for the difference that they make every day in the life of the individual they are caring for.
Lend your Eyes
Look around! What does this caregiver need? Is the grass getting long? Perhaps the refrigerator is looking a little empty. Caregivers are going to tell you that they are fine, and that everything is, “All set”. If you ask how you can help, you will get nothing for an answer. If you LOOK with an eye towards seeing how you can help, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to see how you could be helpful.
Lend a Hand
“Let me know if you need anything” is equivalent to telling a caregiver, “good luck with whatever you have got to do until I call you, or am able to return.” Stop talking and start doing! Be a helpful hand – provide an hour of respite, send the caregiver out for a coffee (and be nice, pay for it too!) or to get their nails done. Caregivers need a break, and they need to know that it is okay to take care of themselves and be pampered. But they also need to know that things are okay with the individual they care for. So watch them, learn, praise them for their good work, see how you can support them, and then make it happen!
By the way, in case you are wondering how things with my aunt went – she has since passed, my cousin is now living in a group home, the dog went to a shelter and I am living with regrets! Lend an ear, your mouth, your eyes – but if you must remember only one, remember to lend a hand.