Giving care to someone you love who is sick isn’t a hayride (assuming hayrides are super fun), but sometimes in life we’re called upon by someone who needs us and we have to show the fuck up. It might be hard – no scratch that, it WILL be hard. It might be uncomfortable. It might be sad. You might not have any idea what to do. But, you have to step up to the plate anyway and give it all you got.
There have been a few times in my life where I’ve had to step up to the plate, adjust my jockstrap, and swing with my whole heart. I can’t adjust your jockstrap for you, but I can share some things that have helped me during my caregiving process.
Take what resonates with you, ditch the rest. Know that this is from my personal experience thus far and I fully understand that all of our situations are different. What has worked for me and my people, might not work for you and yours, but if some of my insights can help you, then batter up, my love.
1. As much as you might be tempted, don’t try to fix things or try to make everything better for the person you are caring for. You will fail, and you will piss them off in the process. Instead, hold space for them. Let them be scared. Let them be mad. Let them be sad. Be present, hold their hand, give them your full attention, and accept whatever emotions they are feeling.
This is their process, and it’s really important that you fully listen to them and acknowledge what they are going through, without judgment or trying to make it different from what it is. As Megan Devine puts it, “You can’t heal somebody’s pain by trying to take it away from them”. When you try to fix things and make things all better, it is your way of protecting YOURSELF from feeling uncomfortable and sad. But when we take care of someone who is sick, it’s not about us.
2. If you make healthy food suggestions don’t be attached to the outcome. I was taking care of my sister recently and I wanted nothing more than to make her nourishing green juice, nutrient dense soups, and antioxidant packed green smoothies. She usually loves these things, but when I was there, they did not sound good to her. She wasn’t eating a lot and when she did eat, she wanted cheese ravioli with marinara sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy from Denny’s, bean burritos from Taco Bell, and Welch’s grape juice.
So I cheered her on for eating whatever she could get down, and I happily marched my ass to Denny’s, Taco Bell and Albertsons. She was also craving Campbell’s Tomato Soup and purple Gatorade. I made my Creamy Tomato Soup for her just to see if it would nip her craving and it did. I also bought grape Recharge instead of Gatorade, and she was happy with that.
It’s cool if you can tweak things to make healthier options, but don’t be upset if they aren’t into it. Let it go and let them take the lead without punishing them for it.
3. Taking care of yourself is non-negotiable when caring for others. This is something that I really have to be conscious about. I do an outstanding job of taking care of myself when I’m home and in my usual routine, but as soon as I’m out of my element, taking care of someone, my self-care routine tries its hardest to slip right through my fingers. It’s so important to take care of yourself when giving care to someone else because if you don’t, you can’t give that person your best. And people who you give care to deserve your best.
If you can manage to do 25% – 50% of what you normally do, you’re doing great. On my most recent caregiving adventure, this meant getting up much earlier than usual and doing 5 – 10 minutes of meditation instead of 20 minutes and only half of my stretch / exercise routine. It also meant eating vegan (but not necessarily WFPB), drinking a green smoothie or juice at least every other day, drinking plenty of water, eating enough food, taking a break to sit down and rest, and getting enough sleep.
Just because you can’t do 100% of what you normally do, does not mean you should do 0%. Do the best you can, even if it’s only one or two things from your regular self-care routine.
4. Do not own their pain. You can hold space for them. You can be compassionate. You can be loving. You can be empathetic. You can be caring and nurturing. You can even hold their pain momentarily. But do not take on their pain as your own. They have their pain. You have yours.
Your pain might be sparked by something they are experiencing but that doesn’t transfer their pain to you. So yes, feel your pain and be sad for their pain but, most importantly, lovingly accept that they are in pain and know that it is theirs to carry and process.
5. Save breaking down for when you are alone. When someone is sick, they feel bad enough. The last thing they need is to carry the weight of your sad feelings. They need every single ounce of their energy to go into making themselves feel better, not making you feel better.
Now, this isn’t to say that you should hold all your feelings in or hide the fact that you’re sad and scared about what’s happening. Your person deserves honesty and it’s good to be open about how you feel, but losing your shit and having a complete meltdown in front of them isn’t helping anyone.
So yes, cry, scream, get mad, throw something if you must, but don’t do it in front of them. Save that for a solo date.
6. Don’t be shy to ask for help. I know you’re an amazing human, and even the most amazing of humans need help. When caring for someone, there is a lot to do. Not only does your person likely need your help with the day-to-day stuff, like eating, cooking and laundry, they will also need help with logistics. Paperwork, phone calls, scheduling and anything else that needs to be sorted out. It’s really hard, if not impossible, to get it all done by yourself.
So call on a friend, ask a family member, hire someone to do the grocery shopping, do what you can so you don’t burn out hard. If you burn out you will be of no help to anyone until you’re back on your feet.
7. Leave the drama at the door. When you’re giving care to someone, it is not at all the right time to moan about your problems, gossip about other people, bring up that fight the two of you had a year ago, or act like a drama queen. Your person needs you to bring your best self to the table and acting like you’re 15 years old is NOT your best self.
So pull up those adulting panties and rise above the nonsense. You have light to shine and drama dims that light fast.
8. Laugh out loud. There’s a lot of heaviness that comes with illness. There can be a lot of humor too. Laughter is medicine and it’s good for everyone’s soul. I was cracking up at my sister’s dreadlock that formed after not being able to get out of bed and shower for so many days. I text pictures to my mom and my other sister and it was a constant source of entertainment and laughs. Sometimes life is shit and there’s nothing we can do about it but laugh.
Giving care to a loved one who is sick is one of the hardest things you will ever do. But, you know, this is actually a good thing because it gives you the opportunity to visit thoughts that you normally don’t have to think about and encounter feelings that you might not otherwise have. And this helps expand and grow and stretch who you are as a person.
Who knows, compassion might find its way into your heart. Forgiveness might show up where you least expect it. Patience might be a reliable steady that you didn’t know you had. Love might tear down walls that have been nailed shut for decades. Your perspective about life and death might twirl around and ask for a much needed dance.
So when such an opportunity comes along, take a breath and step bravely in the direction where you are needed. I’ll see you out on the field, my dear.
Have you given care to someone you love? Talk to us in the comments below and give us your takeaways. We’re all in this together.
Fresh Apple Cinnamon Juice
Fresh Apple Cinnamon Juice
Makes one 16-ounce juice
- 3 green apples, cut into quarters
- 1 large cucumber or two smaller cucumbers
- 1 thumb-size chunk of ginger root (no need to peel)
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder
Place the apple, cucumber and ginger through your juicer.
Take the juicer container away from the juicer and add the cinnamon to the container.
Either stir the juice with a whisk to incorporate the cinnamon or pour the juice into your blender and give it a quick blend.
Wishing you a happy week. May it be filled with perfectly aligned jockstraps.