What DO You Say? (Hint- It’s Easier Than You Think)

I suppose I walked right into that one. You can’t post a “Top 10 Things Not to Say” blog, without expecting a few friendly emails asking, “Well, what can or should I say?”

Actually, I loved being asked because it shows how many people care! In reality, family caregivers often find that their superficial compadres scatter or drift away. I suspect they see that their caregiving colleague has changed and has less time to chit-chat or have fun. Or they don’t know what to do to help and it seems easier to spend time with people whose lives are less complicated.

Rather than another top ten, I offer a handful of key suggestions that will surely make a difference. You’ll notice it’s not about having the right words, as much as sincerity of actions.

  1. Ask, “What can I do to help?” and then suggest a few ideas based on your relationship. (i.e. cook and bring in a meal, tag-team a project/assignment, take meeting notes and fill them in when they have to leave for their caree’s appointment.) The important thing is taking the time to hear the response and genuinely listening attentively.


  1. Don’t be a know-it-all. Keep in mind, the overwhelmed family caregiver most likely has a well-tuned BS radar that can sense judging a mile away. Don’t second guess their decisions until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.


  1. LISTEN. I’ll let you in on a secret. Family caregivers are not actually expecting you (or anyone) to solve their problems. It means the world to have a friend who is willing to lend a shoulder or ear, so they can vent a little sadness or frustration.


  1. Consider their perspective. You may feel you’re just conversing and trying to relate but be mindful that if your caregiving colleague has recently endured the stress of placing a loved one in a nursing home or handling a serious medical treatment/procedure, refrain from telling horror stories of substandard facilities or post-surgery infections. Unless what you’re sharing is truly useful to prevent misfortune, avoid the story altogether.


  1. Try not to exclude. Your friend/colleague is still the same person even though he/she more often declines invitations for that after-work drink, or weekend sail boat excursion! Offer invitations with the understanding that it most likely will not be accepted. If possible, find a way to assure no pressure or guilt for the decline. The isolation factor for family caregivers is real, especially that they feel others do not understand. Realize the family caregiver simply wants, to feel remembered and in the loop.

Although I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again and probably another hundred times…every caregiver’s situation is unique. My commentary is general advice. There’s no perfect approach, solution or style. If you’ve inadvertently stuck your foot in your mouth, as we all do, just keep trying to be a supportive colleague for the long haul. There’s a good chance your caregiving friend could one day become your most valued supporter too!

As always, if you have thoughts about what it’s like to navigate the modern workplace, manage family caregiving employees, manage a career while taking care of a sick or aging parent, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, or email me privately at sb@wearesharingthesun.com

Sarabeth Persiani

Sarahbeth Persiani is the author of Run, Walk, Crawl- A Caregiver Caught Between Generations. For five years, Sarahbeth was the primary caregiver for her Father, who had dementia, while working full-time and taking care of her own family. As the founder of We Are Sharing the Sun, her focus these days is to help companies create a supportive culture for family caregivers and provide education, support and encouragement for working professionals who are themselves in the sandwich squeeze.