August 2, 2023
4 Minutes

How you can be there for me. Sincerely, Your Caregiver Friend.

Maya Devincenzi Dil

“I’ve sent you this because, as you know, I’m a caregiver now.

It’s not an exciting title – if anything, it feels like I’m surrounded by eggshells, and the people closest to me are walking on them.

And I get it. I don’t expect everyone to know how to support me – I’m still adjusting to caregiving myself! So I’m sharing this with you to give you a better idea. It’s a guide from Pal on how to support the caregiver in your life (that’s me). Hope it helps.”

So, someone you love is a caregiver.

They have a lot on their plate, and you want to help. Except, when it comes down to it, you keep coming up empty. You worry that whatever you say will go down wrong, or that their week-late replies to your messages mean that they want space. What if they find your offers of assistance invasive? So you draw back, knowing that there isn’t much you can do to help – at least not in the way that counts.

… not quite right. You just have to be there, and know how to support them in their new role.

First things first, get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Your friend is going through a lot, and will need your empathy and support. So try to be genuine when you ask how they are, rather than avoiding heavy conversations in favour of tidy exchanges. Don’t shy away from asking the tough questions and being persistent. If you ask how they’re doing and they say “I’m fine”, don’t let them off easy. Ask again. If they really don’t want to talk about it, they’ll communicate that, and say something like “thanks for asking but I don’t want to talk about it right now. I just want some company and light conversation at the moment”.

If you feel the urge to fill the conversational void, especially if they ask, talk about your daily life, work and family, like you used to. But maybe, run them through a little “perspective filter” first. Complaining about what a logistical nightmare it’s been for you to plan that 10-day family holiday to Italy will probably sound like an absolute luxury to them. If you’re unsure what is okay to talk about, just ask. They will appreciate the consideration.

If you’re not much of a wordsmith, don’t worry, a kind ear and shoulder to cry on goes a long way. Follow their cues when it comes to communication – if it’s not their thing, don’t talk about silver linings, fate, and how “everything will be fine”.

Aside from listening, there are so many ways to show the caregiver in your life that you’ve got their back. Rather than saying “Call if you need anything”, suggest specific help, like “I know your wife has a scan on Wednesday, shall I pick up the kids from school that day?”

If you’re in the neighbourhood, offer to help with the groceries or give them a hand with the household chores. Alternatively, cook a big dinner to bring over – no one’s gonna say no to homemade lasagna. The same goes for a care package. It’s a thoughtful way to show you care, and you can DIY one easily. Think candles, snacks, their favourite tea and chocolate.

You’ll also need to keep in mind that how you spend time together will look a bit different now. The spontaneous day trips, ladies’ nights, or bi-weekly pints with the boys might not fit their mood or new schedule. Instead, suggest catch-ups over coffee and cake, walks in the park or a gym class. Play it by ear and make sure to ask for their input on how they’d like to be supported – they might want to vent, be distracted, or just sit in silence for a while. Whatever the case, let them know that you’re by their side.

Of course, your well-being is important too. If you don’t have the space for an offload, be honest. Never feel bad for looking after yourself – just because your friend has a lot on, it doesn’t mean you can’t have healthy boundaries.

Now that you know how you can be there for your friend, step up where so many step back. Your efforts won’t be seen as too much, or too little. What matters is that you’re there for them.