Helping a Friend Who Is a Caregiver to a Hospice Patient
By Linda Donovan, Grief Support Volunteer, Hospice of Santa Cruz County
Someone you know may suddenly be thrust into the role of a caregiver to a loved one who has become a hospice patient. You may be asking these questions: How do you help your friend at this critical time? How can you provide the best assistance without being intrusive? What can you do to assist your friend in coping with her added responsibilities? Here are some strategies to consider:
1. Make it known that you are available to provide assistance and recommend specific ways you can help. Don’t expect the caregiver to have a long list of things for you to do, or even to know what could be delegated. She may be so overwhelmed that it’s too much effort to even think about the ways people can provide assistance to her. If that’s the case, make a few suggestions to her. Perhaps you could pick up groceries, cook a meal, watch her loved one while she leaves to do an errand, do laundry, or walk her dog.
2. Offer to contact other people for her to keep them updated on the patient’s condition. Caregivers are often inundated with calls from people wanting to know how the patient is doing and desiring to express their sympathy and support. While it may be comforting for the caregiver to talk with people, it’s also emotionally draining. She may have to repeat the same sad story to various people, when she’d prefer to spend that time taking care of her loved one. If you are close friends, offer to communicate messages to a group of people by phone or email to keep them updated on the patient’s progress.
3. Assist out-of-town relatives who may be visiting the patient. Your friend may have family members from out of town who want to visit. They may need to picked up from the airport or taken to a hotel. While their visits may be comforting and welcome, it still involves a level of coordination that the caregiver may not have the time or energy to manage. Volunteer to help with their transportation or find another friend who might assist as well.
4. Bring over a treat to share with the caregiver. Depending on the stage of a patient’s illness, the caregiver may want to leave the house. There may be many times where she could be eating alone, or be so preoccupied that she’s tempted to skip meals. Offer to stop by and bring some coffee, cake, or a meal that you can share with her at a time that is convenient.
5. Enlist other people to help. Some efforts can make such a difference. Cooking meals can become a challenge for the caregiver, who may not have the time or energy to cook or shop. Find out if the family has special dietary restrictions. Then offer to organize a group of friends who can deliver meals to the caregiver. By doing this you are able to take care of an important need for the family and give others a chance to help show they care.
Each hospice patient’s experience is unique and people have various levels of help that they are comfortable accepting. Talk with your friend to find out what would be most helpful and appropriate. By making it known that you care, and offering specific assistance, you can make a real difference in helping people during this challenging time.