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Dad Diary: Two Tips for Including Family and Staying Sane

When a loved one goes into the hospital, those closest to the patient have an awful lot to deal with. If you are a spouse, or parent, or child, you may be the one bearing the greatest responsibility.

In the first few days of a hospitalization, the situation may progress slowly or it may move quickly. Either way, families are dealing with the shock and uncertainty as well as the practical issues of every day life.

One of the toughest aspects of dealing with it all is including others and managing family relationships. Whether your family is close, emotionally and physically, will play a critical role in how stressful this early time is for you.

For me, I become hyper focused on one thing — ensuring that I can be at the hospital as much as possible for those critical times when decisions are being made and information is being shared. Because I get so hyper-focused on my dad and his needs, safety and plan of care, I don’t have much time to communicate with others.

You, the person who is the “next of kin” (practically or legally responsible for the patient), may find this challenging as well.

If your family is close, supportive and helpful, it can be an amazing time of receiving help and spreading the responsibilities and information in a collaborative way. If your family is not close, or doesn’t have as many positive relationships, it can increase the stress of the situation immensely.

I am my father’s only child so the buck stops with me. However, he has other family near and far away.

Here are two strategies to keep family involved and updated while staying focused on your most important priorities — your loved one and you.

One-to-Many Communication is Key:

I’m using a free web service called www.CarePages.com to keep everyone updated. If you aren’t very tech savvy, this is the perfect project for a young person or others in your sphere that is very helpful for you and makes them feel involved.

No matter the shape of family relationships, people will expect to be updated on what’s happening. It’s important to have clear boundaries as the main caregiver. Otherwise, people will forget that your main TWO priorities are —  your loved one and you. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you won’t be able to maintain the focus, energy and resiliency to be an advocate for your loved one.

One great strategy is if your family has one person who loves to be Information Central, get them on board to assist as your traffic manager. This would be a very social person who keeps connected to everyone in the family and they love to be the source of knowledge.

Ask this person to be the Q&A source where you will speak only to them and they will disseminate information out by phone, text, email or even by managing your CarePages updates.

Use Facebook or other social media. If you have a Facebook page (or your Information Central contact does), and you feel comfortable sharing with your Friends, use this as you main source of updates. They key is to have one source for giving information that can be accessed or sent out to many people at once.

Involve your loved one’s church, community, friends and neighbors by asking your Information Central contact, or someone that they can work with, to reach out to others in your loved one’s sphere. This Community Central contact can be the next role on your personal care team who gives updates to church, community groups (like the gardening or dance club), and neighbors.

Give People a Helping Task:

I find that, although you are the primary caregiver coordinating care and working with your loved one and his or her medical care team in the hospital, people want to help and they need to feel involved. The best way to balance their need with your need for rest, peace and help, is to give them a helping task.

This is a tough one for me. It can be hard to know what to say when people state, “Let me know if I can do anything.” How can you know what that really means? It’s tough to know if people are just saying that to be nice or if they really mean it. Plus, we can feel like we are imposing on already-busy people.

But, let me be clear, people really do want to be involved and feel useful. If they didn’t offer, they aren’t likely to be the kind of person to follow through. In fact, I remember when my first husband was ill and I was doing a bad job at receiving help.

A friend said to me, “Receiving help is really about giving others the gift of helping. It’s not so much about you as it is about them.”

Here are a few ideas of helping tasks that you can ask friends, family and neighbors to contribute. Remember, it does as much for them as it does for you.

1. Cards and e-cards to the hospital. Let your Information Central contact get out to everyone the hospital name, address, floor/unit and room/bed number for your loved one. Get those cards and good messages flowing. Many hospitals now offer an e-card service where you complete a form online and volunteers print the e-cards in color and deliver them to your loved one.

2. Encourage people to visit as is appropriate for your unit and visiting hours. When the time is right, encourage people to visit.

3. Food. It’s one of the easiest ways that people can help. My favorite way to deal with food is to have your tech savvy family contact set up a www.MealBaby.com page and invite family, friends, everyone to sign up to make a meal. My church uses this service and it makes helping so slick and easy.

I find that healthy snacks that are pre-packaged are a great gift for caregivers because it’s easy enough to put some crackers, cheese sticks of fruit snacks in a bag for when you’re stuck waiting and you can’t find a vending machine if your life depended on it.

4. Non-perishables. Ok, we don’t think of this but paper products are critically needed. There’s nothing worse than having to think about going to the grocery store for toilet paper when you just want to go home. Toilet paper, paper towels, and (let’s not forget) facial tissues are wonderful ideas as gifts. Plus, those little packs of Kleenex are a subtle, and supportive, reminder that it’s ok to cry.

5. Cleaning service. Ok, many women will grimace at this suggestion, but please hear me out. For $50 a few friends and family can chip in and you can come home to a clean and fresh-smelling home. When my first husband became ill, I tried this once and it was the best reward ever. The amazing feeling that I got when I walked in the door to a neat, clean and delightful-smelling home was indescribable.

6. Gas gift cards. People may feel funny sending cash, but driving to the hospital, parking and meals on the go gets expensive very quick. Paying $8 a day for parking with daily visits means that you have to come up with another $50 a week. Gas gift cards are a very helpful way to easily relieve some of the financial burden without making others feel needy.

During these early days of hospitalization, these two strategies can help set you up for less stress and hassles now, and for involving family and friends who want to support you. Let them.

Do you have a favorite gift you like to give or receive as a caregiver? Join the MyHealthVoice.com community and share your suggestions!

About @susanharkema

Susan is the creator of MyHealthVoice.com, built upon her 20+ years in healthcare and her experiences as a caregiver and patient. She is a writer, speaker and advocate for people living with chronic or life limiting illness as well as their family and professional caregivers. Learn more - www.myhealthvoice/susanharkema/.

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