No matter how much you love someone, caregiving can feel like a thankless job. In the early days of my husband’s recovery from a traumatic brain injury, I felt like a reverse Cinderella. The day-to-day drudgery was real, but there was no fancy ball, no glass slipper or promise of life in the castle. My Prince was in pain — needy and diminished. It’s the scenario no one imagines when they utter the vow “for better or worse.”
It’s a gift to be able to ease someone’s suffering in small and great ways. But many people who haven’t experienced a tragedy or serious illness have no concrete idea of the best way to approach someone, what to say or what actions are most impactful. This has nothing to do with intention. Everyone wants to get it right and “do something.” But it’s often hard to know what is appropriate, which can make people anxious.
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Gleaned from my own experience and the advice of so many others, the following is my list of things to consider — whether you are caring for the caregiver or approaching a friend going through a difficult time.
Make contact — don’t hold back
When something goes wrong in a friend’s life — whether it is a personal health crisis or a critically ill parent — it’s important to acknowledge what is happening. Take your cues from them, and if a personal visit isn’t appropriate, a heartfelt note is nice. When you do see them in person, try to keep your emotions in check. You don’t want to put them in the position of having to use their precious energy to buck you up.
Make them feel ‘normal'
Try not to ask questions that make people recount the ordeal, or relive an experience that they are momentarily trying to escape. Take your lead from them when it comes to conversation. Some people want to discuss every detail and others want to hear news from the outside world that has nothing to do with the challenges of the medical situation.