“EVERYTHING happens for a reason.”
I’ve heard that uttered so often that when I heard it yet again when I was going through a difficult patch recently, I could have screamed, or gotten quite violent with those well-intentioned people.
Yes it’s true, many caregivers seem to be the calm, collected people — strong, positive and organised despite the odds. But sometimes one just never knows what’s brewing inside; it could trigger a rage so fierce that others could either recoil from the unexpected blow or be forever hurt.
Sometimes you’re the innocent bystander who is that proverbial last straw to break the camel’s back and you end up receiving the pent-up wrath. So a word of caution before you spew platitudes and cliches, — think before you speak. The caregiver may already be at her wits’ end trying to keep everything together. She doesn’t need to hear things that make her seem ignorant or ungrateful.
So do choose your words well. Try putting yourself in her shoes even though, sometimes, that’s quite hard to do because you’ve never experienced his/her situation yourself. There are many articles and blogs written on what NOT to say to caregivers, and I do agree with quite a few of them.
Here are some commonly-spouted phrases that aren’t very helpful.
“This too shall pass”: I have learnt to hate that phrase. Yes, of course it will pass, but can we talk about what’s going on
“You’re an angel” or “you’ll have a place in heaven for being such a great parent/child”: Really? It’s such hard work taking care of someone who’s ill or needs full assistance 24/7. It’s non-negotiable and sometimes they can’t seem to understand you enough to cooperate and do the things you’d like them to do. Sometimes, there’s no one else to do the job even when you’ve been looking for help.
“God never gives you more than you can handle”: While I don’t question the will of God, I really hate it when people say this. What does it even mean when people tell you that? How are you supposed to feel? That you’re supposed to suffer before getting rewarded? Go to religious classes to find out the answer?
“You’re so brave and strong to do this”: Courage, strength and duty has nothing much to do with it. You’re there and you just have to do it. That’s all there is to it. You just take a deep breath and tell yourself you can do this. Can you get someone else to do the caregiving for you? Perhaps, but sometimes there isn’t anyone there when you want them.
But here’s one situation... it is the child that you’ve always wanted but he was born with all sorts of handicap. Would you discard him and toss him out because he’s imperfect? You could possibly do that with inanimate objects and ask for a replacement under a warranty. But with people, there are no guarantees you’d get something perfect. We ourselves are far from perfect.
So now that you have a loved one who is unwell or imperfect, do you send them away? Don’t simply tell someone that they should send their loved one to a nursing home. While that may work for some, it is not always the solution for others. Don’t you be the one to push them to it. Let them decide. Many people assume that such a facility takes care of every need. That’s not always true.
ACTION, NOT WORDS
The one thing that can help someone who’s going through tough times as a caregiver is to not ask what you can do to help; just do it. For example, you may know that they are making many hospital runs. You could send food to the house. Ask them the day and time you can drop it off and what they’d like — meat or vegetarian etc. Some people don’t eat fast food, so you may want to check on that.
Caregivers are far from perfect. They are often exhausted, and somehow, always feel inadequate because they feel they could have done more. Telling them that they should be grateful that the situation is not worse doesn’t help. It invalidates what they’re struggling to do. Of course if you compare yourself to a situation that’s far worse than what you’re going through, you’d count yourself lucky that you don’t have it as bad. But it doesn’t take away the fact that you’re still tired and overwhelmed.
In the years that I’ve been a caregiver, I’ve learnt this much: be careful whom you open up to in airing your grouses. The response you get may just irritate instead of help.
If you’re a good friend who understands what’s going on, stand strong by your friend even if you’ve said all the wrong things. Let her rant until she’s spent. Some people cry; others may shout or be sharp with their words. You’d know your friend well enough to give her that latitude. You can show her that you care.