I've written before about how to show support for a loved one experiencing a health crisis. It's important to acknowledge that this is a difficult time, listen to your loved one, and reach out with a card or email. But, what if you wish to play a more active role in the caregiving process? Here are a few of my suggestions:
1. No Pop Ins. If you’d like to visit a loved one who is dealing with a medical issue, call or text in advance. (Texting is preferable for those who use text messaging since most people have longer or louder rings for telephone calls.) This rule applies whether or not the person is in the hospital or at home.
There are times when your loved one will need and want company. However, there are other times when your loved one will not. Medication side effects, sleeping difficulties, doctors’ appointments, tests and the amount of people already scheduled to visit vary from day-to-day, if not hour-to-hour. If you wish to see the patient, give him or her the right of refusal, thereby ensuring that your visit is about the person who is ill, not you.
2. Check Yo’ Self: When a person is going through a major health issue, the crisis affects all the people in his or her life. You, as a loved one, are entitled to feel sad, angry, confused or any other emotion. You also might not be able to control the other problems in your own life that are impacting you at the same time that your loved one is dealing with a health crisis. Feel whatever you are feeling and process whatever you need to process.
However, try not to burden the loved one with your issues while he or she is fighting his or her own battles. Or, if you feel as though you need to share your emotions with your loved one, ask him or her before unloading. Talking about your problems might be a welcome diversion for your loved one, or it might overwhelm him or her. You won't know unless you ask.
3. Sincerity Counts: If you are willing to help a person in his or her time of need, let him or her know how to get in touch with you. Don’t assume that the person has your number or will have the time or energy to contact you via Facebook or a third party.
4. Specifics Matter: No one person can realistically be there 100% of the time for anyone else. We all have lives and responsibilities. But, if you want to show support for a loved one during a health crisis, think of what you can do.
Are you a night owl and could handle a late request? Do you and your friend both have children and you could help with car pool? Is your work schedule flexible and you could accompany your significant other to the hospital? Are you heading to the grocery store and could pick up a few things and bring them over to your aunt’s house? Are you technologically savvy and could easily install a computer program or new television and show your neighbor how to use it? Do you enjoy baking and could leave some food in front of your friend's dorm room?
Think of what works for you, your skills, your schedule. Then think about what your loved one needs and throw out a few specific suggestions. Your thoughtfulness will be appreciated!
5. Help or Company: When some people are experiencing a health crisis, they just want company. Having someone close to eat with, talk to or watch television is all that’s needed. This is often the case when the patient is staying in a medical facility.
Other people will be in need of actual help. Help might consist of rides to treatment, picking up medication from the pharmacy, getting mail, or assistance with pets or children. Are you more of a caregiver or a companion? There are benefits to both, and it might be useful to the person going through the medical issue to know what to expect in advance of your arrival.
Sometimes a patient might just want to talk, while other times, he or she might need actual help and find company draining. If you are more of a “companion,” try to be as self-sufficient as possible. Bring food and drinks with you or ask for permission to peruse your loved one’s kitchen so that he or she doesn’t need to keep getting up and down. Limit your visits to one hour, unless he or she requests for you to stay longer. If the patient is in the hospital, respect visiting hours and automatically excuse yourself when the doctors perform their rounds. Don't assume that your loved one wants you in the room for any discussions with his or her medical team.
If you are visiting from out-of-town, discuss the purpose of your visit and your loved one's needs in advance of your arrival. Do what you can to ensure that your trip goes well and that your loved one doesn't need to entertain you.
I'll be writing more about this topic, but I'd love to hear your thoughts about what I mentioned, what I missed, and what has worked for you and your loved ones. xoxo