Don’t Know What to Say to a New Caregiver? Here Are 5 Supportive Things to Say
Have you noticed that sometimes people don’t speak to disabled or ill persons because they don’t really know what to say? The same is true about caregivers. If friends don’t know exactly what to say to us, sometimes they say nothing at all.
Thankfully, most people try to avoid clichés like:
- “This is God’s plan.”
- “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
- “It could be worse.”
- “Just think positive thoughts.”
- “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
People who say these things mean well, and they may be reaching out with their best efforts, but these are just words. They don’t really bring much comfort, nor do they indicate an offer of help.
As a caregiver to my husband, who is in his 19th year of Parkinson’s disease, I have heard them all. While I understand that my friends are trying to help me feel better, and some of these clichés may be true, there are other things I would rather hear.
So, speaking for my fellow caregivers around the globe, here are some things to say that will offer encouragement and support in a more uplifting way:
“How Are You Holding Up?”
Many people ask about our loved one, yet they fail to ask how we are doing as caregivers. It may be true that we are not ill, but we do have feelings. We, caregivers, do get lonely. We do want people to ask about us.
We are working hard to care for our loved ones, yet many times people only ask about the patient, and we’re left on the sidelines. When friends ask about us, they are saying that we, too, matter.
“How Can I Help?”
In truth, there may not be anything you can do to help, but offering is a kind and thoughtful thing to do. It lets us know you care. It helps us feel less alone on this journey. In case we cannot think of something at that moment, it would be helpful to offer something similar to these:
- Can I bring you something from the grocery store?
- Can I pick up a prescription for you?
- Can I take you out to lunch or coffee next time you can go out alone?
- Can I bring dinner for you and your loved one? What is something you both can eat?
- Do you need a ride to the doctor’s office?
A Note to Caregivers
If possible, allow your friends to help. Don’t brush their offer aside. They want to do what they can to ease your load. If they offer several times and we don’t allow them to help, they may stop offering. Remember that there is as much pleasure in giving, as there is in receiving.
“Can I Come by and Visit for a Few Minutes? “
When we cannot get out, we really miss the other people in our lives. If we are home-bound, you may have to come to us. Your visit will keep us in touch with the real world.
As diseases progress, caregivers need to stay home more often and so they lose touch with friends and family. After caring for someone all day, sometimes we just don’t have any energy left to initiate communication or to plan an evening out.
So, if your caregiver friend seems more hermit-like, perhaps this is the reason. Reach out to them anyway and let them know you care. We need socialization, so come on over even if you only have 10-15 minutes at a time.
“Do You Have Time to Talk?”
We might like a conversation about something besides our patient and their disease – something normal that we have in common. Often, we feel surrounded by the disease 24/7, and it helps to discuss different topics.
- Talk about memories we shared in times past.
- Ask about our children and our grandchildren.
- Talk about future plans. (This is a tricky topic. Our future may be uncertain, but we do think about it often. So, talk with us about making plans, even if they sound unreal or fantastic.)
We need to have a conversation about anything except disease and healthcare. Sometimes that just feels good! Keep the conversation light and laugh with us. A fun phone call might be just what we need.
“Tell Me More About the Disease ________ Has.”
Find out more about the disease of our loved one, so you can speak intelligently about it. This may sound like a contradiction of the previous suggestion, but it is important to know something about the disease we are dealing with daily.
That prevents you from asking the same questions about it over and over, and it shows that you are interested. Share when you read an article about that disease or condition, or when you see something on television about it. That shows you are making connections with our world.
We who are ‘nursing’ a loved one (full or part time) do appreciate our friends who encourage us. We thank you for taking time for us and for keeping us connected to the outside world. We understand that sometimes you just don’t know what to say, so we hope this article helps.
What do you think a caregiver needs the most? Support, help, conversation? What words from friends have helped you on your caregiving journey? What do you need help with? What would you like to hear? Thanks for reading and for participating in the conversation. We are all in this together.
Cheryl Hughes is a wife, mother, grandmother and retired teacher. She is the caregiver to her husband of 46 years who has advanced Parkinson’s Disease. Her mission is to encourage and inspire other caregivers to realize they are not alone and can live with personal meaning and fulfilment.