We celebrated Mother’s Day this past Sunday. I cherished the phone call that I made to wish my own mother a Happy Mother’s Day. I enjoyed seeing my wife’s daughters and family wish her the same. Mothers are the ultimate caretakers. Everyone needs to be cared for at different stages in their life.
But it was a bittersweet holiday for me this year. My own mother will soon be 89 years old. I know that there will not be many more of those phone calls. And while it was great seeing my wife showered with love, I also know how difficult this day was for her. It was her first Mother’s Day without her own mother. She passed away from head and neck cancer last fall. My wife spent much of last year traveling to Florida to help take care of her. Many of us have experienced this role reversal. The child becomes the caretaker.
I see this in my profession time and time again. But anytime you experience it first hand, it teaches you many new lessons. One of the charitable organizations we support is “Stand Up to Cancer.” For Mother’s Day weekend that organization ran newspaper ads stressing the power of caregivers and how much they really can help cancer survivors. Here are some tips that they had for caregivers that hit home to my wife and me.
1) They talk, you listen.
It’s harder than you think – just listening without judging and without problem solving. Cancer patients simply want compassionate understanding. You can help care for them, but you cannot fix them or truly know what they are going through. You can hold their hand and be silent as you listen. Remember that laying hands on someone may be the greatest gift you can give.
2) Don’t ask, just do.
Instead of waiting for the cancer survivor to ask for help, just jump in and do. Most of us are too proud to ask for help even though we desperately need it. It is the everyday tasks that can be overwhelming. Simple tasks like doing laundry, grocery shopping and cleaning house become giant hurdles when the person doesn’t have the energy or strength. You can offer specific tasks that you can do for them. Helping with these little things are a huge help to the cancer survivor.
3) Learn, so you can understand.
While you will never fully know what your loved one is experiencing, you can learn what needs to be done to help them through this battle. Unless you are specifically asked, you do not want to give your opinion on medical issues. However if you understand all that is involved in their medical care, you’ll be better able to understand the treatment process and the terms being used. This way you can help the patient understand what is happening when they have so much information coming at them. You can track questions, help with appointments and know how you can be most useful. It’s best to use good Internet sources. If you are involved in their doctors’ visits, ask their nurses what are the resources that they recommend. Stick with national organization web sites for starters.
4) Keep them connected, be the bridge.
Remember that the cancer patient still wants to be part of everyday life. After diagnosis friends and even family may drift away. As a caregiver you may be in the best position to keep family and friends informed. With the Internet it’s easier than you think. There are websites like Caring Bridge and Care Monster to help you communicate with family and friends in a private forum. This also keeps you from having to explain what is going on over and over again. They can also leave messages for the survivor to read when they feel up to it. This is a way to stay connected on the survivors own time. Encourage friends and family to keep the survivor involved in everyday happenings too. This helps them feel connected and hopeful. Sometimes a loving note or words of encouragement can mean the world to the survivor who is feeling all alone in this.
Being a caregiver can be as self-less and as exhausting as motherhood. Neither the caregiver nor the mother are often told thank you, but they are both essential to the happiness and well-being of those that are in their care. So as we honor our mothers this May, take the time to say ‘Thank You’ to all the caregivers in your life. If you are a caregiver, know that you matter.