Want to know one thing you can do today to help the caregiver in your life?
Listen. Just listen.
Simple, right? In some ways, yes. In others? Not so much. But it is one thing you can do to help the caregiver in your life more than you’ll ever realize. And you can do it today.
A quick story
I was talking on the phone with my friend Travis last week. It was a regular conversation like hundreds of others we’ve had in the past 25 years. Nothing special happened. He probably wouldn’t even remember it but I won’t forget it. That simple conversation was everything for me. Because of one thing.
It had been a month or so since we last spoke. There was small talk, chops busting and general catching up between friends. During the conversation, Travis naturally asked how Mom and Steve were doing. After I provided the cliff notes version of all of our familial happenings, he asked another question.
How are you doing?
We’re close friends so I shouldn’t have been surprised by the question, but it stopped me in my tracks. I made immediate note of it because of the question itself, what came after (more on that in a second) and the contrast to typical chats with friends and family these days.
I understand why but conversations with friends and/or family typically go something like this:
Person: How is Mom/Steve doing?
Me: He/she is doing well….<provide update>
Person: Ok, make sure you’re taking care of yourself too.
Mom and Steve are the focus and rightly so. I totally get it. But it felt good to be asked. And what came next felt even better.
It was the silence of Travis listening. A silent signal of his genuine care for me–and our family. His ask and subsequent silence gave me permission to share. I could almost feel his listening posture through the phone. It told me the floor was mine.
The one thing
Travis’ determination to listen also freed me from any fear of being second guessed or judged. I’m pretty certain that people I interact with day and day out aren’t continuously judging and second guessing decisions I make as a caregiver, but I perceive it that way sometimes. It’s part of my existence right now. Caregiving for me is an exercise in perpetual insecurity and I’m constantly putting myself on trial in my head.
Was that the right decision?
Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.
Why didn’t I think of that sooner?
How could I have not seen that coming?
But in this case, Travis stifled all of that with his question and subsequent silence. One thing, one simple thing with an incredible positive impact on me. Travis listened. He asked a question because he was interested–and actively listened.
Permission granted (and so appreciated)
His words, tone of voice and intent to hear what I had to say gave me permission I didn’t know I was looking for to open up. With Travis’ unspoken green light, I shared freely without wondering if I was a burden or fear of challenge or judgement.
I wasn’t bracing for his response as I was speaking. I was speaking my mind (and heart) because Travis’ listening told me to do so. It was exactly what the doctor ordered in that moment and when we hung up the phone, I felt lighter and filled with gratitude. All the result of a friend’s commitment to listen.
Now this is not to say I don’t appreciate dialogue and debate. I do. I rely on it and consistently (and thankfully) get invaluable advice and perspectives from friends and family and complete strangers. Caregiving truly does take a village and I’d be lost without the input of mine.
It’s just that sometimes what’s most helpful for me is knowing that I’m heard. I want to get things off my chest with no strings attached. More than want to, I need to.
That’s what Travis’ listening did for me.
And I bet it’s one thing you can do to help the caregiver in your life, too.
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