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What Caregivers Can Do: Some Suggestions

Learn to Listen

Start with yourself:

  • Listen to your desire to be of service, your true, loving intention.
  • Listen to your fear around illness and death.
  • Listen to your pain and grief about old losses and threatened losses that have been opened up by knowing someone with this illness.
  • Acknowledge to yourself what you think you can do, or at least where you think you can start.
  • Acknowledge what you think you can’t do; know and respect your boundaries.
  • Notice how you feel when you’re listened to well; notice what the other person does and doesn’t do.
  • Practice listening to someone who isn’t in crisis. Ask for feedback. Notice when you think you’re listening well and when you’re not.
  • Take a workshop or class in learning to listen well.

Listening to Someone Who is Ill

  • You don’t have to try and fix the situation or give advice.
  • You can say: “If you want to talk, I’m here to listen to what you’re going through; I really want to know even though I might feel scared sometimes,” or “What is it like for you to be going through this with your children?”
  • And then sit with your mouth shut and your heart open—and listen.
  • Let the person cry, laugh, rage, whatever she needs to do.
  • Let it be OK to sit in silence.
  • If your own tears well up, it’s fine as long as you don’t become the object of concern.
  • You don’t have to rehearse what you’re going to say.
  • Don’t take it personally if the person doesn’t want to talk about her illness.
  • After you’re with a seriously ill person, do something to take care of yourself: Make room for feelings that have come up. Talk to someone who can listen. Write in a journal. Hike in nature. Take a bath. Listen to music.

Make a List of Specific Things You Can Offer, such as:

  • “I can baby-sit twice a month.”
  • “I will take your kids for a sleepover one weekend next month.”
  • “I will cook one meal a week for the next four weeks.”
  • “I can research groups or support services for you and your kids.”
  • “I will buy birthday gifts for your children to bring to their friends’ party.”
  • “I will drive your kids to school (or after school activities or appointments) on Mondays and Thursdays.
  • “I can run errands or drive you to medical appointments on Fridays.”
  • “I’ll take you out for a movie or something fun as soon as you’re ready.”

General Suggestions

  • It’s better to make a specific offer of help than a general one, like “I’ll do anything.”
  • It’s better to offer a few things and come through than to offer too much and not.
  • It’s better to communicate your limitations than just disappear.
  • Don’t take it personally if the ill parent doesn’t want to send her children to your home for a sleepover or says she doesn’t want to talk about her illness. Everyone goes through illness differently. Some want to be surrounded with people; others want to hunker down with the immediate family and remain private. Give a lot of space and slack; let her know you’re still there.
  • If it’s too hard for you to be with the ill person, there are still ways to support her.
    Here are a few:
    • Write a note about how much you care. Be honest about your limitations.
    • Say you’re thinking of the ill person, or that you’re praying for her.
    • Send loving or humorous cards on a regular basis.
    • Perhaps with a few others, buy her something that will nourish her: e.g., a massage, CDs of healing music or meditation, professional help to record her story
  • For more ideas on how to offer help to someone who’s ill, see Another Morning and Books for Caregivers in Resource Guide 2006)

Join a Support Network

Caregivers also need support. It’s easy to burn out if you’re doing too much. It’s best to have a group that can divvy up the tasks so the burdens don’t fall too much on a few. Create or join a support network to assist the person who’s ill.

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