I’ve been a caregiver, in one way or another, almost my entire life.
Throughout my childhood I was called on to help out around the house while my motherwas in and out of hospital with a heart condition. When I left home my brother and I shared a flat and he underwent about two operations a year for a chronic digestive disease.
In fact if my husband hadn’t been one of the healthiest men I’d ever met I might think I seek out people who are ill. It came as a shock when 8 months after we married he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and surprised us again when 6 months after treatment we were told the cancer had returned.
Being a caregiver is exhausting. Sometimes I wonder why, since I’m not the person having operations or chemotherapy or endless blood tests and scans. As a caregiver, I often feel selfish asking for help or taking a step back from a commitment but sometimes it is the only way to make it through.
If someone you know is a caregiver you might be wondering how you can help them. Here are the ten things I’ve found most helpful:
Idea #1 Offer to co-ordinate
A simple way to help a caregiver is to offer to co-ordinate things like meals, lifts and health updates. It can be tiring to co-ordinate meals (even though I don’t know how I’d get by without them) and update everyone about progress updates. It takes a huge weight off my shoulders when I can direct enquiries or offers of help to one person and just worry about looking after my husband and myself.
Idea #2 Be specific
When I’m stressed and someone asks me “Can I help with anything?” I tend to just say no rather than have to think of something. However, if someone says, “I’m going shopping can I pick up some bread and milk?” I will often say “yes”. Many times it’s not that I don’t need help it’s that it takes to much energy to articulate what I need help with.
Idea #3 Drop off a meal
Next time you whip up your secret recipe chicken casserole make a little extra and drop it off. Illness takes a toll on everyone in a household and having a couple of home cooked meals in the freezer can allow a family to focus on each other rather than what’s for dinner. See Laura Rennie's article Lift a Burden by Gifting a Meal for some more tips on this.
Idea #4 Go shopping
Let a caregiver know if you’re going shopping and will be in the vicinity later, to drop it off. Suggest a few things you thought you’d drop off like bread, cheese, milk, fruit and vegetables. Ask if they’d like this and if there’s anything else they need. Don’t forget to find what their budget is.
Idea #5 Treat them
Having operations and being sick is expensive business which means often the first things to go from a budget are treats. Small things like a gift card, cash to cover medical bills, tickets to a movie, a bunch of flowers or a slab of chocolate make a difference. If you’re close to the person they are caregiving offering to visit for an hour while the caregiver goes out can be a treat too.
Idea #6 Take the steering wheel
If you have the time then offering to help with lift the patient to the doctor, hospital or just run to the chemist can be a great way to assist.
Idea #7 Pray
If you live too far away to help practically or just don’t have the time then let the person know you’re praying for them and ask them if they have any specific prayer requests. Friends of mine set up an online prayer group which really helps as sending a quick prayer SOS makes me feel less alone.
Idea #8 Babysit
If there are children in the picture then take the time to get to know them so that their parents will be comfortable with letting you take them for an hour or two. Or if you have your own children that you’re looking after during the day offer to take theirs on a more regular basis.
Idea #9 Air Their Dirty Laundry
Offer to pick up the laundry once a week and deliver it back to them clean and folded. Often our laundry piles up when my husband is in hospital because I just don’t find a moment to do it. If laundry isn’t your thing you could offer to come round for an hour or two and give their place a clean.
Idea #10 Give them space
Be sensitive to the persons needs. Caregiving can take up a lot of time. This means don’t take offence if a caregiver doesn’t answer the phone, reply to a text or email or get back to you as quickly as they would usually. Don’t get frustrated if they turn down your offers of help or aren’t able to attend functions they used to. Being supportive sometimes means stepping back and allowing them the space to find their own way as a caregiver.
Wendy van Eyck is proudly South African and lives in Johannesburg where she runs a 24-hour Gospel Music Television channel that broadcasts to 47 African countries. Her website www.ilovedevotionals.com features devotionals that range from learning about God while doing laundry to discovering biblical truths while caring for her cancer fighting husband. Follow her on twitter: @wendyvaneyck or find her on Facebook.