Cancer. One word from a doctor is all it took to thrust a hardworking Coast Guard pilot trying to finish flight school into the full-time role of caregiver as he and his wife began a yearlong journey through her terminal fight with stomach cancer. Vincent, currently a lieutenant in the Coast Guard, reflected on this difficult season of his life with two hopes. One of encouragement for other caregivers. And the other hope to give those who may wish to care for the caregiver.
Being a caregiver is a full-time job. Many caregivers will not ask for help or take time for themselves because they feel guilty not pouring all their time and energy (or the offer of time an energy from others) into the person that is sick. Caregiver burnout is a real thing, though, and it is important that others recognize that the person taking care of their loved one is emotionally, physically, and mentally drained. Here are some things that can cause caregiver burnout according the the Clevland Clinic:
- Going from spouse/loved one to full-time caregiver is a hard adjustment. Trying to find this balance can be exhausting and difficult.
- Many caregivers feel like they have to do it all. This causes physical and mental exhaustion. Sometimes others place demands on them, too, especially if they are taking over several new roles.
- Money and resources can be tight. Caregivers want to make the other person better. But when there are financial strains and few resources to help them, they often become mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Without proper self-care and assistance, many caregivers will find themselves having caregiver burnout which includes:
- Withdrawal from friends, family and other loved ones
- Symptoms of depression like loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed and helplessness
- Weight gain or loss
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Getting sick more often
- Emotional and physical exhaustion
Frequently, those in a caregiver role are too busy to ask for help. And so many well-meaning people say, “Let me know if you need anything.” We know that they do need things, but they don’t want to ask. Here are a few ways to actually help a caregiver, and things to avoid.
How You Can Actually Help a Caregiver
Show the caregiver you’re thinking about them with a gift that can provide a chance for rejuvenation or independence, and make it unique to their personality.
For instance, Vincent described the best physical gift he received during that season was a new surfboard. As an avid, water-loving Californian, the ocean never failed to refresh him no matter what his day involved. Given to him by his neighbor, the surfboard allowed him precious time to collect his thoughts and have a spiritual retreat in the middle of such a tumultuous time.
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Perhaps it could be a bicycle, a massage, a new journal, or even a handwritten card. Just something that is personal to the caregiver, but reminds her that she is her own person even while her whole life is wrapped up in someone else’s.
While it’s no surprise, Vincent affirmed that another wonderful way to show care is through meal trains. A free meal without any work involved allows the caregiver one less stressor for the day, or task to be accomplished. You could even take it one step ahead and offer to go grocery shopping for the caregiver, too.
Things Not to do to Help a Caregiver
Ensure you are actually offering help instead of making things worse. Refrain from speaking the worst ‘s’ word in a caregiver’s vocabulary: sorry.
The caregiver knows what has happened and is either still trying to work through it or he has already moved on and is embracing the new normal. Every “I’m so sorry,” paired with the sad eyes of sympathy brings the issue back to the forefront when all he wants to do is move forward.
“You don’t need reminding of how bad the situation may be,” Vincent explained.
Avoid the urge to offer advice. The caregiver will have sought out his own mentors or close friends to go to for these things. While it may be well-intentioned, unsolicited advice simply isn’t helpful to a caregiver.
Vincent also encourages friends and loved ones to keep themselves from acting weird around the caregiver or the person he is caregiving for. Not being your normal self just reminds them that things aren’t how they used to be. If you want to act any differently, be even more joyful and life-giving around them.
Care for the Caregiver
Vincent is always quick to point others enduring this kind of situation to his faith in Jesus. Between all the self-help books, positive thinking, and advice from the world, Vincent explained how it all paled in comparison to what he had by staying rooted in God.
With that said, he provided insight on what helped him daily throughout the time he spent caring for his wife: a day-to-day mentality, prayer and encouragement, and time to recharge. He suggests a caregiver gather a team that surrounds them with encouragement, pushes them closer to their faith, and will be available 24/7.
“The worst thing you can do is have people around you who are sad, and invoke that sadness and gloom on you,” he said.
The last thing he suggests when caring for a caregiver is to encourage them to take time for themselves. Whether it’s leaving the house for a simple walk, working out, or reading a book in a quiet corner, find an opportunity every day to rejuvenate.
“A caretaker who doesn’t take care of themselves first is going to be terrible as a caretaker,” Vincent said. “Find time for you.”
The role of a caregiver is a vital job, but those who care for the caregiver are just as vital throughout this process. Show a caretaker some love today…the right way.
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Check out 9 WAYS TO HELP A MOM WITH POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION!