Help your Caregiving Friends.

Jim carrying the tree to our vehicle at the tree farm. Dec. 2006.

Jim carrying the tree to our vehicle at the tree farm. Dec. 2006.

It’s that time again. You either love it or hate it. Few and far between are the ones with no opinion. The Christmas season brings back so many wonderful memories, it is hard to not become sentimental at the first notes of a favorite carol or feel as if something is missing without eggnog in the fridge or white candles in the windows. While all of this is remarkably picturesque and the stuff movies are made of, there is a lot of pressure and stress that tags along for the merriment.

So, I have decided to try to help all of the friends and family for caregivers of dementia patients. I am sure this list could have quite a few more things added, but this is what I have right now. As soon as I hit “publish” I will think of ten more things.

First of all, if you are taking the time to read this, you care and you are commended for being a supportive and concerned friend. But, (there’s always a but, right?) as much as you want to help and as much as you want to be there for your friend, it is as impossible for you to entirely understand what they are going through as it was for you to do so before you had children (or grandchildren). There is just no way to convey the enormous emotional and mental overload that comes with both. So be patient and let them seem forgetful and let them be late without glancing at your watch and let them forget to thank you for the wonderful dish you dropped off. They are grateful, but they think at the wrong times to mention it. And to those reading this who have “disappeared”…..don’t worry. You will be welcomed back with open arms. Don’t be embarrassed by the amount of time that has gone by; for most caregivers, days run into weeks that run into months and they aren’t really 100% sure how long it has been since you two last chatted anyway.

So here are the beginnings of some tips for friends and neighbors of caregivers. Please feel free to add your own in the comments section.

What a wonderful surprise this holiday decoration was when my friend dropped by to hang it on our front porch. That is the Christmas spirit….

What a wonderful surprise this holiday decoration was when my friend dropped by to hang it on our front porch. Words don’t convey how special this simple item now is to me.

  • Just be there. As their loved one progresses, it is lonely anytime of year. But during festivities and social events and times of sentimentality, life can be bittersweet. Just having a friend to be present is a huge gift. It could be just hanging out together, or it could be watching a tv show or calling or sending an e-mail or dropping by to check in or…..ok, you get the picture. Let them know you are thinking of them. It helps. A lot.
  • Help with decorations. We just went and cut our tree at the same tree farm we have been going to for 6 or 7 years. Love this tradition. It is our tradition. I can’t change that. I don’t want to change that. But this year, I had to come inside, get the scissors, (I had asked Jim to, but he brought them to the backyard first and then brought them back inside because he didn’t see me out there) cut the twine holding the tree to the roof of our van, put on the gloves and lift that tree and carry it to the bucket I got out and filled with water and I set it up and…ok, you get this picture too. Right? You know what? I don’t mind doing all of this. But I did it with Jim standing by watching and I knew it hurt him because he knew he should be doing it and it hurt me because I felt the same way. It was not a moment of triumph but a moment of inner-sadness. While I was trying to hang some lights out front, to keep that tradition alive as well, a wonderful friend popped by with a surprise; a decoration for our front porch. Not only did she bring it by, she hung it up and asked if she could help me hang the lights and garland.
  • If there are children in the home, ask if you can take them shopping for the caregiver. Or, better yet, ask the caregiver if you can borrow their loved one for a short time and take the patient to shop for the caregiver. If they are in a home, could you grab a little something the next time you are at the store, wrap it and drop it by the nursing home with a note it is from “Jim”? Can you imagine the wonderful feeling that would bring and the change in a day and a change in an attitude that could bring?  I no longer really care about opening presents Christmas morning. Yes, it is nice to a have something to unwrap and be surprised about, but really and truly, I know it would mean so much to Jim to do this for me, without me being the one to take him and to help him pick out something. A friend took Jim last year to pick out something for Frances and for Brad. My parents took the kids to pick out something for me. It doesn’t have to be the same person doing everything. Just do what you can to help in a way you are comfortable with. You might have to get creative, there are so many scenarios a family could have, but if you are able, please try to bring some Christmas spirit to the situation.
  • Help them help themselves. I want so badly to bake cookies, decorate, send out cards, visit friends, wrap gifts, sing carols and watch night after night of old holiday classics….but I just can’t seem to be able to figure out what I am doing. I’m not saying bake the cookies for them, but maybe see if you can stop by and help them. Or help them with cards (I am ashamed to admit we haven’t sent any out in years and now we only receive a handful) or ask them if they can sit with you and watch A Christmas Story (trust me, they need a good laugh). Just setting aside the time and making the effort and commitment to do these things will pay off because they will be so glad they did. And having your help will make it even more special.
  • Please do not stop inviting them to your annual party. They know you are still having it. They know they used to go. They know the only reason you haven’ t mentioned anything is because you have no idea what to do. Invite them anyway. Let them tell you “no” or let them find someone to stay with their loved one so they can join the fun. That is how much it means to them….they will pay someone and work hard to find someone to “sit” for them so they can attend. Better yet, be the friend who doesn’t care about going to said party and offer to sit for them so they can go catch up with friends and neighbors. This type of socialization and fun can be the difference between depression and happiness. Can you find a way to include them in your fun? If you are going to view holiday lights, can they tag along?
  • On that note, offer anytime to just come sit with their charge so they can do some holiday cheer. Whether it be dropping off gifts to friends or going to a movie or dinner or out for some holiday shopping ALONE, that is a gift to them all upon itself.
  • Don’t forget, when the New Year comes, think of them and invite them over or out or come by to help ring in 2015. And while you are at it, tell them how much you have missed them in 2014 but that you understand. Make a resolution (and stick to it) to visit them or contact them more regularly because your friendship means so much to you. It means as much to them, but they are just too overwhelmed to share that with you. Honestly, that is the best gift you could give. It doesn’t matter if you are ashamed because you fell off the face of the earth when they became engrossed in caregiving. It is never too late to come around and admit your selfishness and inconsideration and to make amends. They probably feel guilty for not calling you more or trying to reach out to you too. Relationships work two ways, but at some point there is always a person who gives more and a person who takes more. I have learned I am in the stage of taking more and it is a hard, hard, hard thing to admit and to do day after day. If you were previously the one who was usually a giver, you know what I mean. If you are a friend who usually takes, it’s your turn. You have to believe me, they miss your friendship and will most likely welcome you back with open arms. They didn’t stop coming round because they wanted to and it had nothing to do with not wanting to be your friend.
    Jim lifting Frances up for topping off the tree in 2010.

    Jim lifting Frances up for topping off the tree in 2010.

    Just give them a hug and be grateful for another day, another holiday season and another year together!

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (3)

3 Responses to “Help your Caregiving Friends.”

  1. zina says:

    Where are you in Williamsburg? Message me with email or phone number. 757 585-5309

  2. zina says:

    Call me or email me zinasproduce@aol.com 757 585-5309

  3. Wendy Sweigert says:

    these are all wonderful! I couldn’t add a thing. I am just grateful for those who come and do because they know I have a hard time asking for help!

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