Episode 78: Three Ways to Connect With Your Loved One Without Having to Fix Anything

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Show Notes

Family caregivers have a lot they have to deal and cope with, but you already know that don’t you? There are all the doctors’ appointments, treatments, therapies, surgeries, special diets, changing your home to accommodate their needs and the list goes on. It leaves us all exhausted, overwhelmed, and on bad days… hopeless. 

We give all of ourselves to help a person we love live… but we don’t always stop to enjoy the time we have with them. I have found that there have been times when I became buried in all the responsibility of caregiving and at the same time losing time I could enjoy life with my husband. So today I’m going to talk about connecting with the person you care for.

Now you know my frame of view is always that of a spouse. I share what I know and almost all of the time it works… doesn’t it? So today the stories I share of my husband and I can easily be of you and your mother, or your brother or your child. The need for human connection is universal.

Before cancer, my husband and I were close. We had fun doing things together and most of our weekends were filled with trips around town, going to movies, museums, and farmers markets, and just being out in the world with our daughter. We balanced each other out well. 

When cancer came to our home that balance was shattered. We both tried, the best we could, to just keep our heads above water. With just a phone call my husband's focus in life was to stay alive and my focus was to keep him alive. So, understandably, things started to fall apart. We didn’t always balance each other out anymore. Oftentimes we were both reacting out of fear and anxiety together. If both of us felt stuck and just wanted to stay in bed all day there wasn’t another person to make us get up. 

We both needed each other but we were too busy to figure out how to fight cancer to really be there. We both tried to hold back our fear in an effort to be strong for the other person. During stressful times we often became short or bad-tempered. Little things would set us off because there was just only so much our minds could take. In addition, we both had jobs and the same responsibilities we had before. We tried to continue living our life fully as we had before cancer while also working full-time to deal with cancer. An impossible task. We were clearly just trying to hold it together. Before his surgery, he was just trying to do his best to stay positive and I was doing my best to help him do that while setting up support for our daughter and the house during his surgery and have things set up to make his return as seamless as possible. We definitely were trying not to talk about things that were front and center for us. 

Things like…

What if this doesn’t work? What does this mean for us?

His surgery was scheduled fairly quickly and before I knew it I found myself sitting next to his hospital bed, waiting for him to wake up. I had spent so much time leading up to that day being overwhelmed by everything I was trying to get done before surgery that it felt weird to just sit. As I watched him rest I realized there was one thing I forgot to do. I forgot to connect with him.

Out of all the things I was trying to get done before surgery I lost sight of what has always been one of the most important parts of my life… my husband! All of the things I was doing for him yet I didn’t see that what was actually important for me to do was to just sit with him. Now that that was the only thing I could do I realized it was all that ever really mattered. 

We spend so much time doing as a caregiver that we lose sight of needing to stop and enjoy the person we are with. I know that we are all caregivers for different reasons. Hopefully, you are a caregiver because you love or care for the person you care for, or at least you used to. There is no denying that it benefits both us and the people we care for when we can simply spend time together. It’s so easy to get sucked into all of the things we need to do as a caregiver that it makes it hard to be their companion. To sit by them as someone who loves them and not someone who is tirelessly working to help them live. 

I think sometimes staying in caregiving mode makes it easier. If we can distract from the emotions we’re feeling and what they are going through then we can avoid being uncomfortable. In doing that you really are shortchanging yourself. Living life fully isn’t just about all the happy moments… it’s also about experiencing the difficult ones. 

So when things begin to get emotional and you feel the urge to have to go check the laundry or cook diner or whatever your usual escape route is try this instead. If you are driving or don’t have anything to write them down with no worries every word I’m saying is on my website and if you’re signed up for newsletters you get the link to the transcripts every Thursday.

  1. Stay when the person you care for gets emotional and be ok when it becomes uncomfortable. I get it… it isn’t an easy thing to hear a person tell you how upset they are especially when it is something you have no control over. Sadness and fear often times come out as anger so as long as you have good boundaries set there is nothing wrong with letting them express how they are angry about how their life has been changed. When people become upset it can be hard to not also feel upset with them and that can make it hard for us to let them express themselves. Usually, people try to soothe the person who is emotional. That brings us to the next point.
  2. Don’t try to fix it. Sure that’s what you do. In fact, you try to make everything better for them all the time. But this is a time when it’s best to let them feel. Instead of trying to figure out what you should say to make them feel better… try to sit there and actually listen to what they are saying. If they’re crying, let them cry. Some people will start to shut down and close themselves off if you tell them they don’t need to cry or even hand them a tissue. You know your person best. Really listen and see what cues they are giving and you’ll instinctually know what you should do. However, especially in the beginning, just let them talk. Unless they ask you what they should do you should try not to try to jump in and fix things. Sometimes all a person wants to do is get the thoughts they’ve been sitting without so they don’t feel so big.
  3. The next tip is to just be there. Emotions are scary. Cancer, disease, and disability are scary. The thoughts they can be burdened with can be scary. Man crying alone can be scary too. If you can sit there with them and hold that space so they can feel safe with you there that is a special gift you can give them. 

When my husband woke up after surgery he looked around the room clearly trying to figure out where he was. I grabbed his hand and smiled and then he fell back asleep. Sure an anticlimactic moment if there ever was. But he didn’t let go of my hand. He did this off and on for a couple of days and I didn’t try to fix anything. He complained of the pain and I listened and spoke to him about it. He vented when he was frustrated that he had to stay longer than he expected. He was not happy with how far to the side of his neck his incision went. Because there were nurses and doctors there to help him with his medical needs all I needed to do was be there for him. I’d hold his hand until my arm started to fall asleep. I’d watch tv with him and laugh. When things felt really hard for him I was there to listen, to hold him when that was the right thing to do, and to let him get out how he felt. 

As scary, emotionally draining, and just physically exhausting as it was to spend those five days in the hospital I realized it was what we needed to get us back on track. 

You see, being present for your loved one might sound like just another hard thing you have to do for them, but it’s not. It’s something difficult that, if you are able to do it, will bring you closer. Supporting them in this way is beneficial for you too. 

My husband doesn’t remember much about his week-long hospital stay. He definitely doesn’t remember the first few days. So all that time I spent holding his hand, smiling at him every time he woke up, and just physically being there was really for me. I know on a sub-level he benefitted from me doing those things. However, those first days in the hospital room with him and the connections I made help strengthen my love for him and my dedication to take care of him. 

Simply being there not only helped me remember why I was a caregiver but it was a way for me to recharge and prepare myself for the next stage of caregiving for him. It also taught me that I should never let caregiving become more important than spending time with my husband. Not just for his benefit but because I needed to focus on continuing to love the life I was living while caring for him. 

So if you can slow down just a little bit and begin to notice the cues your loved one might be giving you. If you can take the time to simply just sit with them. The opportunity might come up for them to share with you how they are really feeling. If they do just remember, they’re scared too and they just want to know they aren’t in this on their own. 

If you’d like to find more caregiver support or information about my spousal caregiver coaching head over to www.loveyourcaregivinglife.com If prefer to read these episodes instead of listening you can find all of the transcripts for my podcast there as well as a helpful caregiving pdf download. 

Thank you for listening.

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