7 Tips To Help Caregivers Field Their Loved Ones' Toughest Questions
As members of the Sandwich Generation, many Post 50s are taking on a new role; one that requires great mental, emotional and physical strength -- that of a caregiver to an elderly or sick family member or friend.
Whether looking after ill and aging loved ones, caregivers are often faced with difficult questions such as "What happens next?" and "Will I recover?". In order to guide individuals through these intimidating moments, Walter St. John Ed.D wrote "Solace", a new book of practical tactics and tips that provide caregivers with much-needed advice and insight to better navigate the difficult and role of caregiver.
“The subject of chronic illness and the losses that often lead up to it make most people deeply uncomfortable,” says St. John. “We all have the same fears and most of us go through life studiously ignoring them — so when someone looks us in the eye and voices them, we just don’t know what to say.
Whether you have already taken on the role or you are preparing to, here are seven things St. John recommends all caregivers should keep in mind when faced with difficult questions.
Let The Person Speak
When an ill person brings up subjects that make you feel uncomfortable, it's natural to want to squelch the discussion or rapidly change the subject. However, it's very important to listen unselfishly and avoid responding with, for example: "Let's not get into that right now. Can't we discuss something more pleasant?" or "Do you really think it's helpful to dwell on this topic?"
Know When To Say "I Don't Know"
Whether the patient asks a spiritual or theological question that catches you off guard or she wants to know about the side effects of a medication, it helps to learn how to be noncommittal without seeming evasive. You don't want her to think that you don't care or that you're hiding something, and you definitely don't want to offer misinformation that might do more harm than good.
Don't Hesitate To Call In Spiritual Help
Even for people who weren't very spiritual or religious throughout most of their lives, it's natural to experience spiritual anxiety during a serious illness. And it's also natural for this anxiety to lead to questions that caregivers might find difficult or even overwhelming. If your loved one asks, for instance, 'What's next? Will prayer help? Why did God let this happen to me?' it's best to call in a qualified cleric.
Let The Tears Flow (The Patient's And Yours, Too)
Just as most of us are not comfortable with chronic illness, we are also not comfortable with crying. When tears appear, we tend to whip out a tissue and murmur something along the lines of, "It's okay. Don't cry." From now on, continue to pass the tissue when your ill loved one starts to tear up, but don't pressure him to stop sobbing. Tears are a natural emotional release for emotions ranging from anger to sadness to fear, and can be very therapeutic.
Resist The Urge To Spout Platitudes
When your loved one is uncomfortable, upset, or worried, you might be tempted to utter platitudes like, "Everything will be okay," "I know how you feel," "God has given you a long life," or "It's God's will." While we hope that these phrases will be a quick fix to problems we'd rather not deal with, the truth is that they're trite and meaningless. What's more, sugarcoating reality doesn't fool most people, and it certainly doesn't spark positive change.
Respond Constructively To Anger
Anger is a natural human emotion, and it's important to recognize that chronically ill people have a lot to potentially feel upset about. Understandably, many patients are angry that they are so sick. Plus, their pain and energy levels might make them less patient or less able to handle stressful situations. Therefore, it's not unusual for caregivers to be on the receiving end when their loved one's fuse blows for any reason.
Seek To Connect Heart To Heart
Understanding how and why an illness is getting worse and more painful is intellectual. But experiencing it is a very visceral and emotional thing. The patient needs for you to connect with him on a heart-to-heart, gut-to-gut level, not just a mental one.