Salisbury Press

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Four words can make a caregiver’s day

Thursday, March 28, 2019 by The Press in Opinion

When the phone rang one mid-morning, I considered not answering it.

A bit overwhelmed by my caregiving tasks, I was not in the mood to deal with sales calls or surveys.

But I answered it anyway. And I am glad I did.

A retired friend, Nancy, told me she was out and about doing errands.

“Do you need anything?” she asked.

What magic words. These four simple, wonderful words made my day.

Of course I needed something. I almost always need something.

But unless I can find someone to sit in my house while I run a few errands, I cannot leave. Sometimes I am homebound for more than a week.

Despite suffering the sudden death of her younger sister just weeks earlier, Nancy remains the kind of person who thrives on helping others.

And goodness knows, caregivers need all the help they can get.

Many folks dangle before caregivers the vague offer of, “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.”

But how many caregivers feel comfortable taking these people up on their offers?

A lot of individuals, myself included, are reluctant to ask directly for help.

But an offer like Nancy’s is too good to refuse.

I wish more well-meaning folks would study Nancy’s playbook.

She has picked up a prescription for me and has brought items from the Farmer’s Market.

She took over some of the volunteer work I no longer have time to do.

She calls to ask how I am doing. She lets me vent my frustrations.

Her selfless behavior got me thinking about other ways folks can reach out to help caregivers, who often feel isolated, lonely and stressed.

If you know a caregiver, boost his or her spirits with a brief phone call. Of course ask about the patient, but also be sure to ask how the caregiver is faring.

Offer to pick up items at the store. Or offer to supply a meal.

Caregivers frequently find they have to relax their standards, and this is not easy. A perfectionist, I no longer can keep the house and yard looking the way I think they should.

So an offer to help me clean house or work in the garden is always welcome. And having a companion to talk with while we work is a bonus.

Offer to sit with the patient and give the caregiver an afternoon or evening out.

If the caregiver is hesitant to leave the patient or entrust others with the care, ask to stop by for a visit. Maybe bring along coffee or tea and a special treat.

Neighbors can help caregivers by taking out their trash, mowing their lawns or offering transportation to medical appointments.

I have a wonderful neighbor, Wayne, who regularly collects and brings back my recycling containers, which the haulers leave strewn about the sidewalk.

He sweeps my sidewalk and he and his wife shovel my snow.

He also built a small ramp to help my husband’s wheelchair navigate the curb more easily.

He helps me get my husband into the house.

An excellent gardener, Wayne generously shares his tasty produce, thus saving me trips to the grocery store or farm stands.

He is quick to offer a tool or a helping hand when I am struggling with a repair.

I am grateful to have such a special neighbor next door to me.

If you are inclined to pitch in, specific offers of help are more welcome than vague ones.

Offer to do certain household chores, such as cleaning the bathroom, or home repairs for the caregiver.

Offer to stop at the post office or pharmacy.

Stay in touch with the caregiver, even if you feel uncomfortable around the sick person and don’t know what to say or how to act.

Phone calls and visits are greatly appreciated.

Be supportive. Be a good listener. And again, do not wait to be asked for help.

One thing I have learned from my caregiving experience is that I cannot do this alone. Contrary to what I believed, I am not superhuman.

I realize now most people are happy to help if they can, so I am trying hard to overcome my shyness about asking for assistance.

And you can bet I will never ever refuse help when it is offered.