By Clair Wentz
Long-distance caregiving is not easy. When you are a caregiver for a loved one with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, there can be additional challenges. You may feel like you are not in the loop or helpless to give them the daily support they can need. By getting to know your loved one’s neighbors, however, you can greatly improve their care.
Ask Your Loved One
Being removed from the experiences of your loved one can be difficult to reconcile with. Even if you are an hour’s drive away, you may not always be available. However, by building a strong support system, you can do much for them. You may already know your loved one’s neighbors, but you should still get their consent before approaching them. Neighbors can be there when you cannot.
Discuss with your loved one with whom they feel most comfortable, and who would be able to provide caregiving duties. Ask them what sorts of tasks are desirable and how the strain can be alleviated. Knowing exactly what your loved one needs can help when you speak to neighbors.
Connect with Neighbors
The next step is meeting neighbors. To start the process of developing relationships, it’s important to have meaningful conversations. Invite them over for a coffee, or perhaps ask them to brunch. A comfortable, calm environment will be ideal for discussing something as sensitive as this. Even if they know that your loved one has been impacted by chronic lymphocytic leukemia, they may not be aware of the particular needs of a chronic cancer patient. Get to know them and understand their perspectives. Be positive and explain the situation that you are in as a long-distance caregiver. Specifics are important. Ask them what responsibilities are practical. It might be something as simple as running some errands, checking in on them, or providing transportation options. Make sure to exchange phone numbers, and if possible, email addresses or social media information.
Keep in Touch
Stay in touch with the neighbors. Communication is a crucial part of long-distance caregiving. Whether that’s a phone call or a message online, it adds up to help nurture an open, positive relationship, and keep you updated. While you may be seeking details on how your loved one is doing, or how things went when they were driven to a medical appointment, be sure to take an interest in their lives, too. This is a time for mutual support and being there to listen and understand can strengthen your bond with them.
When it comes to care for your loved one, encourage them to contact you no matter how trivial they might perceive an issue to be. Neighbors will be your eyes when you cannot be there, but they may encounter difficulties that might benefit from your guidance and advice. When you visit your loved one, be sure to check in on the neighbors as well.
Reach Out to the Community
Beyond your loved one’s neighbors, look to expand a support system to the broader community. Do they attend church or a community center? If they do, get your loved one’s permission to reach out to them. Otherwise, consider attending community events to establish what resources are available. Make sure to have your loved one’s consent before approaching groups in the community. If possible, have them accompany you when you are in the area.
Introduce yourself to community organizations and use this as an opportunity to explain your experiences as a long-distance caregiver. You may find that the local religious and community groups offer many valuable voluntary services. They may check in on your loved one, provide companionship and emotional support, perform errands and chores, or offer volunteer transport services.
Get to know your loved one’s neighbors, engage with the community that they belong to. They can do many things to improve your loved one’s quality of life. In the process, they can keep you involved as a caregiver when you cannot be there and lessen some of the fears you may have.
Claire Wentz is creator of caringfromafar.com and author of the upcoming book, Caring from Afar: A Comprehensive Guide for Long-Distance Senior Caregivers. Claire is a former home health nurse and recognizes that our aging population means many more people will become senior caregivers over the years. Specifically, she is interested in providing assistance and support to those caregivers who do not live near their loved ones. She hopes her writing will inform them, uplift them, and give them peace of mind when they need it.
Originally published in The CLL Tribune Q3 2018.