Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Here's the rest of Lee Woodruff's suggestions on best ways to be there for a loved one in a crisis:
"5. Avoid overmothering
Certain physiological things happen as a result of stress or grief. The normal circuits in the body are altered. The caregiver, as well as the patient, is damaged, in crisis, and sometimes things inside their brains don't work they way they normally would. Do not repeatedly tell the caregiver to eat or sleep. They cannot. There are operating on adrenaline, especially in the early stages. Food is only fuel, and sleep is hard to come by. And don't try too hard to pry the care-giver away from the patients bedside for a bite or a walk around the block. They may not ever want to leave their loved ones side, and that's just fine. But also remember that if they say they don't need help with anything, they DO. Don't be afraid to take charge in non-threatening ways to ease their daily burdens.
While I was camped out during Bob's stay in the ICU, my friend Lauren knew that I liked decaf lattes, sushi, brownies, and the special corn and crab soup from the hotel room service. In the early days of our own crisis, I would return from the hospital, shattered and in shock and find these items waiting for me. She didn't nag me to eat or urge me to care for myself; she just took care of me quietly, because she knew I wasn't thinking about food.
6. Be sensitive to what they need to hear
Don't be afraid to acknowledge the person's pain. It's okay to say "This really stinks, but I'm here every step of the way." The most helpful comments you can make involve letting the patient or friend know they are heard. This is a delicate balance because you don't want to minimize things with trite greeting-card philosophy, but nor do you want to underscore the dire nature of the person's situation. This is where you need to use your sixth sense and assess where that person is, emotionally, at any given moment. It may sway from hour to hour. Take your lead from them about what you think they need to hear. It's always comforting to be told, "Let's talk about you for a moment--I'm here to listen if you feel like unburdening."
7. Think practically about what people really need
Stuffed animals, large objects, and flowers in the hospital are cheery, but they often translate into things that just need to be moved from room to room, or take up space in already cramped quarters. Consider practical gifts instead, like pajamas, a luxury soup, thank you notes, a new toothbrush, or slippers. Also, don’t tell the patient or caregiver to call you if they need anything. That puts the burden of asking for help on them. Instead, suggest something specific you can do to help out: a ride for the kids or a sleepover, a dinner brought to the house (without dishes that need to be returned), grocery shopping, cutting the lawn, or walking the dog. Make decisions on the details as much a possible. This includes whether or not they like chicken or fish. Just do it!
8. Choose your words and actions wisely
Don’t expect the patient or caregiver to immediately return your phone call or email. All of their energy right now is on themselves and their immediate family. With each concerned phone call I got from a friend who told me they just needed to hear my voice, I felt more inadequate. “Call me!” well-meaning friends would plead into my answering machine. All that did was pile one more ounce of guilt and failure into my shoulders and add to my to-do list another thing I knew I wouldn’t be able to accomplish. If you need to reach out in the middle of a crisis just leave a message that starts with “you don’t need to call me back, just wanted you to know I was thinking of you."
Also, don’t approach the patient with tears in your eyes or what I call the “sympathy face” (the hangdog look that says, "you poor thing bless your little heart”) This makes the person feel as though they have to use precious energy to buck YOU up.
9. Be there for the long haul
In the first days and weeks of a crisis, people come out of the woodwork, flooding with offers to help. But the real work begins when all the neighbors have gone back to their own lives, and the patient and family still need occasional support. Think of sending a thoughtful gift then, at a time when the family or patient can focus more fully on the beauty of the item. As the weeks pass it is also a time when the patients feels as though many people have retreated; there is no one gathered in the kitchen anymore, no one answering the phone. Simple gestures thru the long haul will make a big difference after the crush of the crisis and will let them know you are still thinking of them. To be needed in that way is perhaps the greatest honor of being a true friend."

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