“Wait! Before you say that …”

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

As 2014 begins across ReadTheSpirit magazine, writers are helping us rethink our relationships. They are reminding us that compassion and hospitality—core strengths of caregivers—are universal goals. Last week, poet Judith Valente published a very helpful column called “10 Steps Toward Peace” that is right in line with my column today, especially in her advice about stopping to think before we speak. I hope you will help us to continue this discussion. It’s important.

When someone finds out that I had cancer and the next thing they say is, “Let me tell you about …” Many times the story about their relative or friend is fine—but often the story ends with the person dying. How many times has this kind of thing happened to you?

Have you been in my shoes, hearing such a grim story? Or, have you been in the role of the storyteller? You need to know: Such stories are not helpful. More often than not, I walk away from such a story thinking: Why did she tell me that!?!

As I write this column, I’m thinking about a woman who I met at a speaking event who just found out that her cancer has returned. I don’t know her well, but we do interact often on Facebook. My heart hurts for her right now. Not necessarily because of the cancer itself—from what I know, she will get past that—but for the draining emotional struggle of managing her emotions while being bombarded by others.

If you know that you’ve been guilty of rushing to tell such unhelpful stories—I realize that the impulse doesn’t come from ill intent. The stories spill out of us because we don’t stop to think before speaking. And I admit, there is no Emily Post guide to caregiving conversations. So, in the spirit of Judith Valente’s steps toward more peaceful and compassionate living, I’m going to offer my own set of tips. Let’s call this …

“Wait! Before you say that …”

Photo by Pomona, shared for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Pomona, shared for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

When you’re visiting someone going through a challenge as tough as a new cancer diagnosis, consider these six tips:

1. Whatever the diagnosis might be, never tell a story about someone who has died of that disorder.

2. Don’t pretend nothing is different. Life has changed dramatically for this person. Think carefully before you speak.

3. You don’t suddenly have the right to ask personal questions that you wouldn’t normally ask—just because of a diagnosis.

4. Unsolicited advice is still unsolicited advice.

5. This is not about you. There is a time and place for nearly everything and this may not be the time for your agenda.

6. Back off. Wait. Listen. Think before you speak or act. The person may need some time to process this major life change. It is overwhelming to keep everyone “in the loop,” so don’t pepper the person with questions and stories. If you must find out what is going on, then track down a friend or family member. Down the road, there may be many important ways you can help.

Do some of these tips sound harsh? I’m sorry, but sometimes I need to point out the obvious because—unless you’ve been the recipient of a well-meaning flood of responses—you may not realize the impact some of the stories and questions can have.

Help us share this conversation

Please, add a comment below about your own experiences or tips. Use the blue-“f” Facebook icon or the envelope-shaped email icon to share this with friends. Or, use the green “print” icon to make a copy of this column and discuss it in your small group. I don’t regard my six tips today as the final word in this discussion. Please, tell us what you think.

Print, share with friends: Caregivers Tips for Fall and Winter

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Thank you to all who contributed to our list as we prepare for the upcoming seasons. Feel free to print this set of tips; or, share this via Facebook, email it to friends, republish this in your congregation’s newsletter. We want to spread this collected wisdom. Many of these ideas will spark fresh excitement in your community.

Caregiver Tips
as Leaves, Snow and Year-End Holidays
Blow into Our Lives

Winter walk in the woodsGive the gift of time. Whether it is a social visit with the caregiver—or respite time, filling in for the caregiver, so they can get away a bit. Time is appreciated! If it’s possible, offer to take the one who requires care out for a while—so that the caregiver can have some time at home alone.

Plan a short fall color tour with an accessible bus for caregivers and the people for whom they care.

Test furnaces early. Start them and run them for a day to see if they’re in working order for the winter.

Organize volunteers in your community to check on wheelchair ramps at neighbors’ homes to ensure they’re in good repair for the months of leaves, ice and snow.

Survey caregivers in your area to see if leaf, ice and snow removal is arranged for fall and winter in the homes where they provide care. Consider organizing volunteers to help out where the caregiver is the one who’ll wind up having to rake leaves and push snow, if you don’t help.

Organize a volunteer crew to help caregivers winterize their vehicles. Got snow scrapers? Check windshield wiper blades? Want some teenagers to give the car a good vacuum inside? Busy caregivers often wind up with vehicles jammed with stuff that they never have time to clean up.

Tech Savvy? How about helping caregivers get setup with Skype or FaceTime or Google-Plus Hangout for the holiday season so that, if they can’t attend a gathering, they can still join in.

Plan a “thanks for the caregivers” Thanksgiving-theme meal in November complete with substitute caregivers to cover their responsibilities at home. This is a great way to get local caregivers in your area to meet and begin forming a support group of friends.

Plan now for just the right holiday gifts to give to the caregivers in your life. Buying local products is wonderful of course. Looking to sites such as NoMoreRack.com and EndOfRetail.com might help you stumble upon a bargain that can express appreciation without breaking the bank.

Organize respite care to give caregivers in your area a “day off” to shop for their own holiday gift giving.

Have a family caregiving arrangement? Consider putting together an album of photos so that the primary caregiver—and the person who they care for—can look through the images and reminisce.

If you are in a close-knit caregiving relationship in your family—and gatherings are planned over the holidays—offer to be the one who goes home early so the primary caregiver can enjoy the entire event. All too often, we simply assume that the usual caregiver will always be tethered to the schedule of the person who needs the care.

Plan a holiday-decorating party for caregivers and shut-ins, after checking on what is appropriate in each case. This can be a fun boost for the whole household and may help weary folks actually get a little decorating done, when they might never find the time.

Share fun holiday music with your community’s caregivers. The gift of music makes an uplifting addition to the environment in any home. Think of burning a mix-CD of music to give to caregivers.

Make a plan now so that caregivers can choose holiday services to attend and can have the time free. Christmas Eve services are extremely popular, yet caregivers rarely have a chance to find replacement caregivers. And, consider having a service in your community at which caregivers—and the men and women they care for—can attend. This may involve planning transportation and a sensitivity to the needs of everyone who gathers.

Thanks for these ideas go to many of our readers, including Suze and Jenny Brown of Chicago, Nance Edwards from San Diego, MaryAnne and Jake from New York, and Bob W from St. Petersburg, Florida.

Changing seasons; looming holidays: So much to do! Help?

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

WE need your help!

Please, read this column and contribute a tip—even a few words. Then, next week, I will compile our brightest ideas and provide a printable check list we all can use to get ready for this “new year” we are entering.

What new year?

Holidays comingHere’s how it unfolds in our household: My daughter runs cross country on her high school team. Last week started with a meet on Tuesday. The weather in Mid-Michigan? 92 degrees, sunny, and humid. Friday she ran again at the Michigan State Invitational in Lansing. As I was preparing to watch her meet—I was finding my winter coat and gloves to stand in 50 degrees, heavy clouds and wind.

Children are back in school; the weather is yo-yoing; the leaves are starting to change and the construction barrels are vanishing. Even if you don’t have students in your household, most employers have a big post-Labor-Day push. Before we know it the year-end holidays will be upon us.

Change is good—sometimes—but it can also be a challenge.

Here at WeAreCaregivers we are bringing together a community of readers who can help each through challenges that caregivers face. In that spirit, we are asking you to help us by offering some insight from your experience with caregiving.

Do you have a tip you could share for dealing with the coming changes in daily routines? Have you got tips for helping caregivers with the piles of leaves—and piles of snow—soon to come in many regions? How about an idea for making the holidays more enjoyable? Do you find that doing—or not doing—certain activities make life a lot easier?

SHARING TIPS:
SOME EXAMPLES

One thing that helps me is to take a few minutes to plan dinners for the week. It isn’t earth shattering, but it makes life better for all of us, especially at times when everyone’s schedule is in overdrive.

Are you part of a congregation starting a new fall-and-winter season? Looking for good ideas for your youth group? Are you part of a community-service group? Men’s group? Hospitality group? What ideas can you share for reaching out to caregivers in the coming seasons?

Here’s another example of a great tip: Organize volunteers to provide respite care for the caregivers in your community—so they each can have a holiday-shopping day free of their normal caregiving duties. Another example: Organize men and women who are handy with repairs to check out the wooden ramps at homes around your community. Any of your neighbors need help fixing a ramp so it’s sturdy for wet, icy and snowy weather?

I’m sure your mind already is whirring away …

HELP? HERE’S HOW:

We are going to pull together the tips you share with us. You don’t need to write a long note. A sentence or less is fine. We will take all of your fabulous advice and compile it for you to share next week. Together we will be better.

Add a comment below or email us at [email protected]