You just heard the news. Your loved one just received a life-changing diagnosis, or perhaps they’re just getting “up in age” and need help with daily living. You now find yourself in the role of a caregiver (well, we prefer the term care partner). How can you do this well?
Care with compassion.
The word “compassion” literally means “to suffer together.” Compassionate care for a loved one happens when you share the pain of illness or advancing age with them.
Compassionate Ways to Care for a Loved One
Some days will be harder than others. Being a great care partner — especially with terminal illnesses, Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, and end-of-life care — requires great sacrifice and extreme devotion. But you’ll treasure the better days spent together.
Always remember: great care for others begins within. And that’s a good place to start.
1. Have Compassion for Yourself
You can’t give what you don’t have. Show yourself compassion. This may be a new idea for you, so start small.
Praise yourself for little wins. Did you make your bed this morning? Did you clear the dishes from the sink? Did you hit a deadline at work? It’s OK to give yourself a pat on the back.
Forgive yourself for mistakes you make. Did you say the wrong thing to someone? Did you forget to put the trash out on trash day? Give yourself a break. Focus on your strengths instead of obsessing over your weaknesses.
Having this kind of compassion for yourself will help you to better give compassion to others.
2. Remember the Golden Rule
Consider how you might feel if your roles were reversed. If you were having a difficult day, would you like to be treated with kindness? Of course you would. Consider what needs your loved one has and try to meet them with the same kind of care you would hope to get.
Show patience when your loved one is moving slowly, feeling sick and in pain, or otherwise having a tough time. Think about it. If it were happening to you, wouldn’t those feel like valid reasons for emotional outbursts and difficult behavior? The experience of physical pain or difficulty coping emotionally may present as anger. They may be embarrassed because they can’t do things that were easy before, or because they are ashamed they need care.
Show kindness and understanding. It may make all the difference.
3. Serve out of Love, Not Duty
We serve people differently when we see them as a loved one versus an obligation. But our loved ones are exactly that: loved ones. Remember this whether you are caring for a parent, spouse or any other loved one. Focus on why you are caring for your loved one. They are a person you love; not a job.
But recognize that you won’t be perfect at this. It’s common for caregivers to feel a sense of duty. You may feel a sense of guilt about this. Let it go. You have chosen to care for your loved one.
4. Give Encouragement
You know how encouragement feels. It can help you see what you’re capable of. It can pull you out of a funk. It can give you a boost toward meeting a goal. It can help you get unstuck.
Give that sort of encouragement and empowerment to your loved one. Tell them about their strengths. Remind them of what they’re good at. Let them know you believe in them. Comfort them in difficult times.
This kind of support can work wonders for your loved one’s self-esteem. It also lets them know they have an ally who will be with them through times both good and bad.
5. Touch Can Be Helpful
A good hug or a touch of the hand can make a big difference in providing compassionate care for a loved one. It can demonstrate your concern and love for them. Research shows that touch can influence the way we react, think and respond. Touch has a big impact on our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
But not everyone has the same boundaries when it comes to touch. Don’t assume touch is welcome. Ask your loved one, “Would it be OK if I gave you a hug?” or “Would you mind if I held your hand?”
6. Practice Active Listening
It’s easy to multitask during conversations, especially in this age of distraction. Put down your phone, turn off the television, or close the book and listen intently to what your loved one has to say. This helps you to better understand your loved one and shows them you care enough to really hear them.
Repeat what they say. For example, if a loved one is feeling frustrated that they can’t remember names of people they see often you can say, “It must be frustrating when you can’t remember people’s names.” This shows you are listening and trying to connect with their feelings. It also invites an opportunity for them to correct any information you didn’t understand.
7. Think Before You Speak
It can be easy to say the wrong thing. Thinking before you speak can help you to avoid saying things you may later regret. It might be tempting to speak out of anger or frustration in the heat of the moment. Remember, compassionate care for a loved one comes from a place of deep respect and understanding. Practice thinking through your words before they leave your lips.
It’s OK to feel angry, frustrated or sad. Emotions come and go. However, we can choose how we react to our emotions. Your ability to manage your emotions as you speak to your loved one will go a long way in dignifying them with compassionate care.
8. Take Care of Yourself
Caregiving (care partnering, rather) is demanding work. It’s easy to burn out. Pouring yourself out for others can mentally, emotionally and physically run you down.
But as I said before, you can’t give what you don’t have. Compassion is hard to give when you feel empty. So take care of yourself.
In the midst of the busyness of care partnering, make sure to eat well, get quality sleep, take short breaks, and do things you enjoy. Consider finding respite care for a few days each week.
Compassionate Care for a Loved One Begins with YOU!
Care for a loved one, no matter the scenario, can be a mind-bogglingly difficult experience. But you are not on your own.
Caregiver Support and Resources, LLC, can help you honor your loved one. We have over 25 years of experience with all aspects of life-care planning and can help you and your loved one build a plan that honors everyone’s wishes and needs. We’re happy to provide referrals and guide the process in a caring and compassionate way.