I’m a volunteer and Personal Assistant to those living with life limiting illness or disability. As part of these roles, I’ve often had to work out how to support carers, relatives of those I work with.
This can be more difficult than it sounds. Many relatives are in extremely stressful circumstances and may also be managing their own ill health or disabilities. Others can be well set up with support from friends and family. So working out how best to support each person is very dependent on their individual circumstances.
When a relative is coping very well, a recognition of this can be very helpful. Having been a carer for my Mum-in-Law as she came towards the end of her life was difficult but my husband, a family friend and I were well organised. Health professionals gave my Mum-in-Law medical support. I personally would have welcomed some recognition from them that as a group, we were supporting her well.
If things are more challenging for a relative, it’s useful to identify what each of us can do to support carers. Asking them what would help is always a good place to start. They may well ask for different things from each person, depending on their skills and personality. One may be asked for meals. Another may be asked to sit with the person with the life limiting illness whilst the carer takes a break. Another may be asked to walk a pet or pick up some shopping.
Recently, I’ve been caring for my husband during and after cancer treatment. I was asked by many of my friends and relatives how they could help. My husband’s appetite was affected, so cooking for him wasn’t an option. Being self-employed, I was able to fit my work around his treatments. His preference was for me to take him to treatment each day. One neighbour took him three times to give me a break but I was able to do the rest.
A couple of things really supported me. My husband suffered some really awful side effects from his treatment. I found that supporting him was sometimes very challenging. Friends and relatives just listening to how tough things were helped me a lot. This was during phone conversations with relatives and whilst I walked with friends. Also, not expecting me to be able to do what I usually did helped. This meant less time or no visits with family and friends for a period.
Sometimes, recognising there’s nothing we as individuals can do to help can be hard but the most appropriate response. Sending a ‘thinking about you’ text or card can be just what’s needed in these circumstances. I’ve valued all those who’ve kept in touch with me this way during my husband’s recent treatment and recovery.