Identify Your Team |  

Identify Your Team

I have had the special privilege of sitting in with an Alzheimer’s caregiver support group for their past two monthly meetings. I thought I knew most everything there is to know about caregiving – – – well, almost everything!

Last night I was blown away by a point made by one of the caregivers in our intimate group of eight: Making the best use of offers to help involves knowing your team!

Each of us as caregivers, over time, have been overcome by the generosity of some friends and family. And at other times when we have been let down when others did not or could not come through has been rather devastating.

After that revelation from the caregiver at the support group meeting last evening, I began reflecting back over 50 years to when my dad’s dementia set in and remembering the mixed feedback our family received from his minister friends. (My dad was a United Methodist minister.)

The majority of his friends, perhaps not knowing what or how to respond to the word that my dad was very mentally ill, avoided our family and my dad.

But two minister friends stand out in my mind to this day as I recall how they reacted. The one, when he found out our family would have nowhere to live after my dad’s forced medical retirement from his church appointment, set about finding us at least temporary housing.

He also knew that I was entering college in the fall. Through a foundation of which he was a board member, he engineered a most generous educational stipend for me that covered all expenses after the initial scholarship I had been awarded by my university. My parents then had no financial worries about me.

The second minister friend extended his friendship to my dad by calling him and sending him regular, personal, handwritten letters over my dad’s remaining lifetime. I believe that close friendship helped him make it through many hospitalizations and times of deep loneliness caused by the frontal temporal dementia. That minister’s daughter remains my friend to this day.

So here, we had friends of two types: 1) those who helped us through by physical actions; and, 2) those who provided emotional support.

Looking back over the 40 years of my dad’s extended illness, my family could have saved ourselves much disappointment by identifying those friends and family members who we could count on, whether it be through loving, helpful acts of kindness or through emotional support through letters, phone calls, or visits.

A fortunate few caregivers may be blessed with a family member or friend who is able to provide both as a doer and as a listener. And those folks are a kind to angels!

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