Caring for someone can be many things: emotionally and physically exhausting; enlightening; necessary; deserved or even undeserved; rewarding; bizarre; super frustrating—I could, since my family started caring for my dad through his illness, literally go on all day. But what about caring for each OTHER, while you’re all understandably consumed by caring for your unwell person? I was a little surprised at how quickly the daily grind of doctors and hospitals and medicines and appointments (not to mention the emotional toll) wore us down to the point where we carers all needed caring for. So for anyone else familiar with this experience, here, in affection and solidarity, are a few “Top Tips” (as my mum calls them) on easy ways that you as a team can care for each other, while you’re all putting so much effort into also caring for someone else.
An easy no-brainer to start with! Like they told us on Sesame Street: “Cooperation! Makes it! Happen!” and chances are that while caring for someone as a team, everyone will find themselves in regular contact with everyone else, all the time. I think this a good thing, because information is always a key factor in making things easy: If everyone is acting on the same information, logically it would reduce the capacity for mistakes and conflicts, right? Maybe I’m just a control freak who loves knowing everything all the time? Either way, it seems to me that the simplest way to avoid the dreaded “miscommunication” problems that can arise in any team, is to simply communicate.
As a carer, I have found myself tweaking this a little beyond my normally erratic texting habits. For instance, when trying to ring a member of the team who doesn’t answer, I go out of my way to send a text detailing the reason I called so they not only know what I wanted, but also have an informative alternative to wondering about it in the interim before they manage to get ahold of me (because such speculative thinking, even over something as innocuous as a missed phone call, under the wrong circumstances or on the wrong kind of day, can be not good). Also, I’ve known several people who have found it useful to keep, through their illness or old age or whatever, a central log of all and any important or noteworthy events, things that go on during treatments, information on medicines, etc. We use a little notebook that my dad keeps in his daily bag, and though this system isn’t exactly flaw-proof, every little bit helps—even something as small as jotting down the basics of a doctor’s appointment, making that information readily available to anyone consulting the book, could be a huge trouble- and time-saver later on.
This one’s pretty straightforward: It’s nice to do nice stuff together. Plus, at the end of a hard day, everyone’s gonna feel better if they eat, and at least one of those people will feel better if they don’t have to do the cooking alone. I’m not saying I’m like a saint at this every night of the week, but pretty early on in this process I realized that an easy and enjoyable effort I could contribute to the general well-being of my team would be to help my mother cook more regularly. Partly, I felt like doing something for and with her to show how much I appreciated her help in caring for my dad, but also, lying around miserably in the dark early evening had started to feel too sucky. Also, I know that it just makes her ecstatically happy when anyone offers to help her cook, and why not make small moves to generate happiness in the world wherever possible, at this point?
In that same way, casually doing other little things for the rest of your team—off the cuff, no biggie, just if you happen to be able to—sometimes actually REALLY makes a difference when everyone is distracted and/or stressed by the heightened responsibilities of caring for someone. It turns out that low-key doing a load of laundry when I notice the bin’s getting full can be REALLY rewarding, especially when measured by the cost and time it takes me (literally nothing) against the completely disproportionate levels of joy and appreciation it produces in my mum. Why not?
Back to my use of cooking as a good example of small, mindful expenditures of effort being worthwhile: I’m definitely not the first person to have noticed that cooking with others can be a particularly calming, healing, and happy event (they say it everywhere, from in A Series of Unfortunate Events to, like, the Bible). This is basically just a recommendation for fast endorphins for the whole family: cooking (or doing any other activities beloved by another team member which also, for you, may straddle the line between pleasure and chore, like gardening, or watching old black-and-white movies) is an easy and cheap way of making you and those around you feel pretty good, at least momentarily. Also, it’s nice to let off steam and work on something as a team that has nothing to do with your peoples’ maybe-sad, maybe-stressful health situation. Also, you get to eat.
– Dividing the care according to your schedules and ever-changing vibes. Sometimes I think of it as taking shifts, even. Our mum participates in the hours before and after her dayjob, I take over when my brother has to work, and vice-versa. Making a schedule of what everyone else has going on in their lives can be very helpful, and allowing this to be subject to change is basically crucial because, life.
– Speaking up when you are having an off day! Caring is difficult, and it’s helpful when you’re honest about your needs, even if they are about being so burnt out physically and/or emotionally that you need to take a break. The team can pick up your slack, and when you’re back on top you can return the favor to another teammate who needs you to take over while they take a moment to regroup.
– Being honest when you need to bow out for a while, and not being hard on yourself about it. Paying attention to your own mental and emotional health will only make you a better carer, and this goes for others on the team, too—don’t be hard on teammates who need to take some time for themselves. The whole point of working as a team is that you can hold it down for others when they are feeling momentarily less capable. You’re there for each other.
– Ditto when it comes to giving and receiving apologies. No one is ever going to be all right all the time, and it’s helpful if you can learn to quickly own (and thus, brush off) the daily hiccups that arise while caring for someone. For instance, on the days when I can’t stop myself from being a raging emotional nightmare, I’ve learned to humbly apologize to the rest of my team, and trust that when they say “it’s OK,” it really IS OK, and we all get over it. The same goes for others in their own moment of being overwhelmed—you can accept an apology for a situation without holding a grudge or wanting to go over it in-depth. It’s OK to freak out, and it’s OK to apologize, and it’s OK to forgive and move on. Everything’s OK!