5 Essential Don'ts for Caregivers . . . and 2 Surprising Questions to Consider

Are you feeling kinda blue, a bit punky, out of sorts, or strangely depleted?

Illness, grief, transitions, burnout, compassion fatigue, hormonal imbalances, an endless ability to say 'no,' boundary-less living, family disasters, job loss, financial upheavals can take us there.

We considered what this looks like in our last post - check it out here.  You might spy yourself somewhere in there ... and be able to grab some practical, hands-on help.

Today's post focuses on the caregiver of the one who is suffering.   

Originally written back in 2016, I'm guessing this to be somewhere in the top ten most important posts I've penned since 2008.

Because kind, compassionate words breathe life and lend much-needed hope.  Insensitive, thoughtless words wound the already fragile soul ... and can wreck havoc on a valued relationship.

I'm taking the liberty of using feminine words in referring to the one who is ailing to avoid the awkward she / he / they.  And using the term caregiver / he to describe the one who ... well ... cares.  Feel free to flip the words around to suit your own particular family or friend scenario.


It can be a daunting challenge to care for someone who's been feeling poorly for awhile.  

A caregiver might believe that he's somehow gotta fix whatever ails her, or pull some kind of magic wand out of his sleeve to wave her symptoms into oblivion.  Perhaps he's more than frustrated that she hasn't pulled herself up by her bootstraps.

Her pessimistic attitude, lack of energy, and litanies of her aches and pains have left him depleted in ways that surprise and yes, alarm him.

And honestly?  He might secretly muse that if she was right with God, then whatever's troubling her should have been over and done with by now.

It doesn't work that way.  Sorry.

Dear caregiving friend, please don't make a bad situation worse than it already is.  I've got two crucial questions to ask yourself right smack dab in the midst of it all:

How can I be safe for her?

How can I love her well?

5 caregiving don'ts for you to consider:

1.  Don't tell her what she needs.
This seems like a no-brainer, but asking someone what she needs is a significant move that could begin to empower her, giving her the freedom to give voice to what's swirling around deep inside ... especially if she discerns that her caregiver truly wants to hear what she's offering up.

He might be quite taken back or even a bit defensive as he listens to her concerns ... and he might completely disagree with the to-do list that emerges.  Or perhaps he finds her request to pray together awkward and uncomfortable.  Or he finds himself just a bit antsy when he hears that she simply longs for him to sit quietly with her for awhile.

The wise caregiver won't use these moments as an opportunity to squirm or debate, instead choosing to tend to her requests with grace that could only come from above.

2.  Don't tell her not to feel that way.
It can be quite difficult for her to actually articulate what is true for her in ways that the caregiver can fully grasp.  She longs for him to empathize, to validate those feelings even if they make no sense to him.  The worst response is for him to refuse to offer her that grace of validation ... or to lecture her for feeling the way she does.

Obnoxiously demanding that she 'stop being anxious' or 'stop being depressed' are a fool's errand and will do nothing more than alienate the caregiver from the one he's trying to care for.  If she wasn't feeling poorly before, his stubborn refusal to be fully present and engaged with her will create immense frustration in her, generating feelings of being disrespected and stirring up anger.

Because she might not have the energy to debate him, her anger just might end up lodged somewhere deep within.  Very simply put, over time, anger turned inward can lead to depression.  Ongoing poor, disrespectful communication skills can result in a toxic emotional mess that could have been avoided.

It doesn't mean that the caregiver tells her that she's absolutely 100% right.  Instead, he offers the ultimate gift of complete focus on her as she speaks, he nods his head because he's listening well, he asks respectful questions to clarify, he tells her he's hearing her heart.

3.  Don't try to fix her.
A human being isn't a machine to program, adjust, manipulate, tinker with.  Our bodies, brains, and spirits are delicately intertwined and incredibly complex.  A doctor is the only one who can fully diagnose physical or brain issues and their impact on daily functioning.

Take the pressure off yourself, my caregiving friend.  And gently come alongside her to make and keep those needed medical appointments.

4.  Don't go it alone.
No one heals in a vacuum.  We all need community and maybe never more than when the blues arrive and for one reason or another, refuse to leave.  Everyone's healing team looks different, but yours could include medical professionals, emotionally healthy family and friends, a counselor / coach / support group, prayer partners, meal providers, church and community resources, even online help from reputable sites.

The best thing about an interactive healing team?  It ends up being a lifeline not just for the one who ails, but for the caregiver, too, who is often suffering in his own way.

5.  Don't ignore your own needs.
This whole caregiving thing is not for the faint of heart, is it.  Get out of the house, do the things you love to do, continue to live your life as best you can.  Nurture your relationship with Christ, carve out time for those friends who make you laugh, stay strong.

Long-time reader Andrew Budak-Schmeisser's A Caregiver's Bill of Rights offers an interesting perspective for the spouses of those who are dying.  You might find it helpfully empowering for your own particular situation, as well.

Been there?  Done that? 
Let's talk ...


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