When a loved one lives far away and is going through a difficult time, either themselves or as a caregiver to another, it’s hard to know what you can do to help out. You feel the urge to drop everything and travel to be by their side, but that is often not feasible because of work, family or financial situations. It can make you feel helpless and anxious as you wait for the next text of news.
We recently brought this challenge up in the 7 Cups Caregivers community and received some amazing advice from members going through this on how to support caregivers and loved ones from far away.
1. Check in frequently and regularly. We all want someone to talk to even we aren’t in the same physical space (this is why 7 Cups was born!). Reaching out by any means, whether it be a text, call, or a note in the mail, is always a good way to show care and attention. The power of a simple “thinking of you” can lower the stress level and feeling of isolation of a long-distance caregiver and make the difference in their entire day. Hand-written messages are even more personal and special way to send love in today’s digital age.
Checking on the caregiver regularly will ensure they know they are also cared for while they are working hard caring for someone else’s needs.
Any communication, from flowers to a card to a Skype or FaceTime session works to show they are seen and appreciated for how hard they’re working. Remind them what an amazing person they are. Feeling noticed and appreciated is highly motivating!
2. Ask what you can do for them. Give your loved one a safe space to vent and a place for them to feel. Ask them how they prefer to stay in touch. Some people prefer texting because talking can be tiring, but others might get the most comfort hearing your voice or seeing your face.
3. Keep humor alive. Lighten up the mood for a caregiver by emailing cute or funny jokes, websites, stories or pictures. As they say, “Laughter is the best medicine.”
4. Ask how they are. And then ask again tomorrow. Asking regularly how the caretaker is doing shows they’re not alone and in your thoughts.
5. Take care of yourself and encourage the caretaker to as well. Don’t put pressure on the caretaker or say it in a “here’s another thing you have to do” way. Ask what they need, listen, and give advice when asked for. Make sure you’re also taking the time for the activities and rituals that help you feel the most healthy. It’s only when we are strong and healthy ourselves that we can be of the best service to others. So don’t skip your morning run, evening meditation or church time on Sunday, whatever activities keep you peaceful and grounded.
6. Share in-person visits with others. If you have a sibling(s), other family members or friends that can help out, rotate a schedule so that visits are happening regularly but the burden isn’t all on you. This will help you all avoid burn out.
During the visit, plan an activity. Whatever it is, jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, cards, television, watching YouTube movies, it will decrease your stress to have a plan and provide structure to your visit.
If your loved one that is being cared for has emotional outbursts during your visit, try to keep things positive no matter how the visit goes. Even if you have to sit on your feelings temporarily until the visit is over, it’s better than expressing anger within the moment. Make sure you have support as well to handle the emotions that come along with having a loved one struggling far away. A few options 7 Cups offers: community, free active listeners available any time of day, or affordable online therapy.
7. Help the caregiver come up with a routine. Having a routine is better than facing an open-ended empty day. A routine can consist of a morning walk at a certain time, followed by computer time, making phone calls, getting mail, relaxing time, and preparing for a good night of rest by going to bed early.
8. Find local support and services. There are wonderful volunteers in many areas who will go to a house to offer respite care. It may only be a couple of hours a week, but it will give the caretaker a small break for self-care such as getting their hair done or spending time with a friend for lunch. This will in turn increase their patience and sanity.
9. Give financial assistance, if you can, at whatever level you can, is helpful in supporting a caregiver who may be stressed with medical costs.
10. Send care packages. Send a goodie-box tailored to your loved one. The box could be filled with word search books, a new game, their favorite magazine, kitting materials, whatever makes the person’s day. If you have kids, get them involved with including a cute piece of art with positive affirmations.