First, let me say a huge thank you to every person that acts or has acted as a caregiver. It is one of the most rewarding and taxing things that people do. It’s an underrated profession and one that doesn’t always pay well. The job can have long-term physical problems that most people fail to recognize. Unless you have been in the profession or been a caregiver to someone in your lifetime, it might be challenging to comprehend how easy it can be to get hurt physically moving someone from point A to point B. Caregiving isn’t for sissies, and it requires thinking about safety for both the caregiver and the person receiving care.
When my Dad got sick from cancer, I found myself laid off from Habitat for Humanity. My heart sunk. I had no way to earn income, and my Dad needed me. My mom worked a lot with various hospitals throughout the country, doing consultation work to get them according to JCAHO standards. In the medical world, JCAHO is a big deal. Since mom was always away, we had to look at the best options to help my Dad. Mom told me that if I were willing to look after my Dad, she would help me with my bills. That statement is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I was glad to help out with my Dad, but in the same breath, I’d never been a caretaker before, and I had a lot to learn.
Thank God for my friends Darla and Debbie. Both of them were professional caregivers, and they helped me look out for my Dad. My friend Ken did too, but Ken didn’t have the same kind of training they did. I learned how to help Dad with his dressing and the best way to help manage his hygiene. I learned how to move him from point A to point B properly. Using my legs and not my back, I found out that I saved myself back problems down the road. I also learned how to read Dad’s body language since his verbal skills were all but extinct by this point..
One day I had to go to our local COSTCO to get medications for my Dad, and I didn’t dare leave him alone. Dad was falling too much, and he couldn’t control his movements. I asked Debbie and Darla to stay with him long enough for me to retrieve his medicines. They happily agreed, and before I left him on the couch with the two of them, I asked him if he needed anything. Without missing a beat, my Dad said in a soft voice, “No, I’ve got a blonde and brunette; I’m good.” I don’t know which of the three of us laughed harder because it was so good to hear my Dad have his sense of humor for just a spell. I left the three of them on the couch, and when I returned, they were all still sitting there talking. Dad didn’t talk much at that point, but he thoroughly enjoyed the company. God, what I wouldn’t give for another day like that one.
Darla fell into caregiving much as I did. Her loved ones were diagnosed with cancer, and she took that opportunity to take care of them. She and I agreed that had we not been allowed to take care of our loved ones when they needed help, we would be kicking ourselves for the time we lost. The hardest thing that caregivers face is watching people deteriorate before their eyes. It’s so difficult to watch someone you love to try to walk down the hall and freeze because they are too afraid to take a step. In one of the early days of my Dad’s cancer diagnosis, my father did that. He walked down the hall and got to his room. As he stopped, he became frozen and said with his head hung down, “Chris, I can’t move. I’m scared to death to put my feet in front of the other.” This admission shook me to my core. My father was not a man who expressed his fears easily; he held a lot inside. He had a temperament that was very hard to anger, and cancer changed him. It wasn’t like he could fight back because the cancer was so aggressive that his mobility was almost a moot point.
Caregivers struggle because they watch people deal with their emotions. When someone loses the ability to do the things they used to do, they get pissed, and who can blame them? In so many ways, I’m glad that my father isn’t around to suffer because the frustration of not having the ability to convey what he was thinking bothered him immensely. His confusion was prominent because he had so many thoughts jumbled up like a jigsaw, and I’d sit with him for hours while he would grab my hand and hold it for dear life. Sometimes I didn’t want to let go because I knew he was slipping away. I even tried to barter with God because Dad was a good and honest man. I’d pulled more lies and shenanigans in my life than I should, and yet I felt that Dad had more to offer than I did.
I did a little research about what not to say to those who are caregiving. As I read the articles, I realized the accuracy of those tips. Caregiving isn’t easy. It’s hard physically and mentally. It’s even more difficult if you are close to the person that you are caregiving. The worst part about being a caregiver is that when you care about the people you are helping, you get stuck in the heart when that person passes. Here are some of the helpful tips I found online with what not to say to caregivers.
1. “I could never do what you do.”
It’s hard to know if that is true because none of us know what the future holds. Most people become caregivers at some point in their lives. It can happen suddenly or gradually, and you might find yourself thrust into a caregiving role that you never expected.
When I entered that role, it was because of my Dad. I know that some of you may have other family members or loved ones that require caregiving. Most of us fall into the role because of loved ones who need us.
Alternative: “I know I am not there yet, but I expect to be a caregiver at some point.” Had I asked this ahead of time, I think my experience would have been different. Thank goodness I had friends who were in the profession to help guide me. The statement above acknowledges the hard work of caregiving and shows respect. It also extends an invitation for the caregiver to share their experience. You are admitting that caregiving is an alien experience for you, but one that will most likely become a part of your life.
2. “If you need anything call me.”
If you don’t mean it, don’t offer help. Caregiving is exhausting. Many times the caregiver functions off of very little to practically no rest. It is a 24/7 commitment in many cases.
Many times the caregiver functions off of very little to practically no rest. It is a 24/7 commitment in many cases.. Alternatives options are below.
- Doing laundry.
- Picking up groceries or medications.
- Doing internet searches for home care.
- Other support services.
Sometimes caregivers need a break. Consider taking the caregiver for dinner or lunch or the park. Offer to arrange for respite care, either through in-home care or adult daycare services.
3. “You should take better care of yourself.”
I’m going to say what a lot of caregivers won’t. “No shit, sherlock.” Listen. Unless you have dealt with caregiving, don’t tell others they need to take care of themselves. They know this. Getting a moment to themselves is often a vast reward, and they usually forget what rest is, especially when they have little to no backup.
Alternative: “I have purchased a spa package for you to use and will arrange for someone to take care of your dad while you are gone.” This kind of statement has teeth. It offers a solution to caregiver burnout while taking care of the apparent problem of replacing the caregiver. It shows respect, commitment, and thought while acknowledging the challenges in a caregiving situation. I know I would have appreciated this offer if someone had extended it to me. I had it better than most by having friends in the profession, but not everyone has that luxury.
4. “I’m sure your Father appreciates your care.”
I’ll never know because Dad wasn’t able to communicate if he was appreciative or not. When the cancer was in full attack mode, Dad couldn’t speak except with his hands. Now, when I went to bat for my father at the hospital, he squeezed Darla’s hand so hard with pride for my actions that I thought he might break her hand. The doctor in charge of his care was stunned by how my Dad calmed down when I was around.
Alternative: “Thank you for what you are doing. It must be very challenging at times.” This statement affirms the effort and the complexity of caregiving. It also opens the door for a deeper dialogue about the nature of the caregiver’s experience.
5. “Your sacrifice for your father is so brave.”
Give me a break. It’s not brave to show someone love. My parents took care of me growing up, and it’s a privilege to return the favor.
Alternative: “I admire your commitment and hard work.” This statement keeps it authentic and straightforward. People don’t need your validations and opinions.
6. “Why don’t you get out more? We never see you anymore.”
Why do people need to say this? Don’t they realize that they would get out more if caregivers could get out more?
Alternative: “We miss you and know how difficult it is for you to get out. What if we plan a get-together at your house?” Now you have verbalized a recognition of the problem and offered to solve it. If the caregiver declines the invitation, graciously accept this and let them know the offer stands at any time. Suggest other alternatives to meeting in person, like scheduled phone conversations so that you can stay connected.
7. “I could never do what you do. I just don’t have the time.”
This statement makes my toes curl. For one thing, I didn’t have time either when Dad got sick. Darla didn’t have time when her grandparents fought cancer, but she made time. Debbie did the same. All of us have busy lives. Sometimes priorities shift, and we do things for the people we love because we want to make their lives better for the time we have with them. When Darla and Debbie became professional caregivers, they took the knowledge of their experiences, and it’s made them very good at their jobs. Both of them are having to pull back from caregiving now because it is demanding emotionally and physically. They’ve both acquired injuries doing this type of work, and Debbie recently learned that caregivers have one of the most formidable physically demanding positions because of all the expectations.
Alternative: “I can’t imagine how hard this must be with all of the other responsibilities that you have right now.” You may have difficulty imagining making time for caregiving, but this statement shows empathy for the caregiver. It acknowledges that everyone is busy, but taking care of a loved one is a priority.
8. “If caregiving is so hard, why don’t you put your Dad in a nursing home?”
Ok. Let me be clear. I’m not anti-nursing homes because I practically grew up in them with my Dad’s position in Nursing Home Administration. I saw firsthand how some of the residents faced questionable treatment. Dad fired quite a few folks who abused residents. If he knew about it, they were gone. But I wasn’t about to put my father in a nursing home facility. There are all kinds of problems that can stem from this act. Plus, having Dad at home made him more comfortable, and even though he struggled, I know he was grateful that mom and I didn’t put him in a nursing home. One of the times that we took Dad for treatment to Arkansas, I remember a man who got off the plane that came up to me and said, “I want to commend you for how you are taking care of him. I know for a fact that if it were my wife and daughters, they would put me in a home. You are both very blessed for this experience.” I never forgot that, and I hope and pray that I never find myself needing to go to a nursing home or assisted living. There’s nothing wrong with them, but there are some facilities that shouldn’t be in business. Research everything before you make those decisions.
Alternative: “I admire the fact that you have kept your dad at home knowing that this is what he wanted.” Overwhelmingly, older adults say they want to be cared for at home. This choice requires enormous sacrifice and work on the part of family caregivers.
9. “I can’t handle seeing Your Dad like this, it is too hard so I can’t visit right now.”
Anyone who says this to you needs a sensitivity chip. It’s a selfish statement because they feel guilty about what you are doing. In my case, I didn’t have siblings, but many folks do, and usually, there is one person in the family to step up and take care of their loved ones while the others don’t always come through. It’s not every case, but there are lots of instances where this is a true statement.
Alternative: “I am struggling with seeing your Dad like this. Can we talk about it so I can get past these feelings?” Being transparent about your emotions is the first step to dealing honestly with them. This item might require talking with a professional about the grief and anxiety you are feeling. Please don’t assume that the caregiver also has these same issues, but they may have persevered despite them.
10. “At least your DAD has had a long life.”
This statement implies that his life no longer has value because of his age and disabilities. It is demeaning and ageist. It also suggests that the caregiver’s efforts shouldn’t mean as much due to his age. In Dad’s case, he was 69. That was young compared to many people in today’s world. While it’s true that he lived longer than many people, he still died young. He had only been a senior citizen for four years, and he worked up until a few months before his death..
Alternative: “It is amazing what good care you take of your father.” This simple statement doesn’t devalue either the caregiver or her father. It appreciates and respects them both, and we should never put a value on human life. Life itself is precious and priceless. The quality of life should also consider a person’s life.
You have with those you live is priceless. Please know that people appreciate you beyond words for all the folks taking care of loved ones personally and professionally. Caregivers are teachers because we learn to value the people in our lives through their acts of kindness. Time is not a given. Take care of those you love and pass along some light to others who may need to see your acts of caring in a new way. Have a great day, everyone.