A recent article in the Huffington Post detailed a dozen sayings that caregivers hate to hear: “A dozen things you should never say to a caregiver“. Many of these complaints are valid and refer to insensitive things people say in situations such as grieving, and terminal illness, in addition to caregiving. Well-meaning people, or at least polite people, often say, “Let me know how I can help,” which is frequently, but not always, an empty offer. All kinds of people give their unsolicited opinions on any number of topics including whether the caregiver should put his mom in a nursing home; caregivers are fair game as the recipients of these people’s thoughts just like everyone else. And I’m sorry to hear that people still tell others who are hurting that God never gives people more than they can handle. Only those who are suffering or burdened should make that remark about their situation. Otherwise it is dismissive and completely unhelpful.
As a former caregiver, I can relate to the frustration caregivers experience when they hear the remarks in the article. But from one caregiver to another: if all of the remarks in the article upset you, you need to reconsider your perspective for your own sense of peace. A few of the statements are often made with the kindest of intentions and you should stop and reflect on the person who has made one of these comments to you before reacting. Is the person mean-spirited? Is the person insincere? If so, then take offense. But if the speakers are generally nice people, give them a break and take the words in the spirit with which they were spoken. Following are four comments out of order from the article to illustrate what I mean:
6. “She is so blessed to have you.” Apparently many caregivers find this irritating but this is not an insult. The person you are caring for is blessed to have you. No matter how bad their situation or their health is, you are a blessing to them. You provide physical care, transportation, meals, companionship, and compassion. You change their world with your presence. That’s all good. Just say, “Thank you,” if someone tells you that.
5. “I’m sure he/she appreciates it.” The frustration this statement causes is because some people do not appear to appreciate their caregivers. In another post, “Caregiving laws of detachment“, I wrote that some people who seem to be sweet and vulnerable because they need help are actually very difficult and they may have spent a lifetime treating people poorly. They might not appreciate the kindness and sacrifice on the part of their caregivers. But I believe that on a deeper level, and on a higher spiritual level, they are grateful to you. (See my response to question six, above.) How could someone not be appreciative of your care? It may be little consolation to you now, I get it, but your kindness will touch that person’s very soul. You are doing the right and loving thing. Even if it takes until after they pass away, their soul will be sending grateful thoughts and love your way. So if someone makes this comment to you, say, “Thanks,” or “Well, I hope so.” And again, consider the intent of the speaker. They are openly admiring you and paying you a compliment.
9. “You really must make time for yourself, you know.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all know this is true. But it’s pretty challenging to downright impossible when you are the primary caregiver or when you are the caregiver who also has a family and other responsibilities. There are only so many hours in a day and if you are like most caregivers, you are exhausted. You might barely have the energy to do anything for yourself besides brush your teeth and sleep. So why do people tell you to make time for yourself? Because they might not truly understand what is involved in caregiving, or they just really care about you and they don’t want to see you become ill from the relentless stress in your world. I recommend you focus on the love behind that comment and say, “I definitely try.” Or you could try to use the tactics in the next statement.
4. “Let me know what I can do to help?” If the person speaking was ever a caregiver, they likely would not ask the question. Instead they might say, “What would be a good night for me to bring dinner?” or, “I’m on my way to the store. Can I pick some things up for you?” On the other hand, if someone has never been a caregiver, they might not have a clue how to be helpful but they might wish to do something for you if they only knew what you needed. So tell them what you need or want. Ask the person if they can get something while they are out and about. Ask if they would like to join you for a cup of coffee in the kitchen because you would like to visit. If the person asking is your sibling and you are taking care of your parent, you can be more demanding. Say you would appreciate some hours of their time with your parent so you can get a break. Say you would like some gift cards for takeout food or a prepared meal delivered to your door. (Here are more tips on sibling caregiver help: “Sibling Rivalry is Always Worse When An Aging Parent Needs Help“) Asking non-relatives to provide meals (except in the case of a death) or hands-on caregiving is too bold. Start small to see if the person is sincere. If they pick up the groceries for you or walk your dog, you have a friend. Let them know how much you value their help. Give people a chance to prove themselves and to feel good about themselves before brushing off their question.
Caregivers, you are some of the most amazing people. Most of you work long hours and you give so much of yourself, at risk to your own well-being. Just remember that other people are wonderful, too. Give them the benefit of the doubt when they struggle to find the right things to say. You certainly do not need the added stress of being angry over words that are heartfelt but sometimes ignorant. Let it go for your own good; that is something you can do to take care of yourself.