Friendship and Caregiving: Smart Strategies for Staying Connected

At some point in our lives it is likely that we will be a caregiver to someone we love: our
child, our spouse, our parent(s), or a relative. It can happen suddenly, we find ourselves needing to give care to a family member who has become acutely physically and/or mentally ill, or we might slowly become a caregiver to a relative who has a chronic illness with its ongoing ebb and flow.

Being a caregiver is the kind of role and responsibility that can be both purposeful and all-
consuming. Caring for another human being, especially someone who is ill, is deeply emotional and physical work that the toll it can take has its own term: caregiver burnout. It takes energy to care for a person who is unwell. Someone recently said to me that, “it can feel like our energy is being taken by them because s/he needs it for themselves.”

We often want to turn to our family for help and support but there are many reasons which can make this challenging: family members may feel stretched to their limits, our relatives might live far away from us, there can be an emotional distance or estrangement, and unfortunately our family members, like many people, can feel uncomfortable with frailty and illness.

Caregiving can be an opportunity to deepen our friendships, especially when finding the time to get together with those very friends can be difficult. It is at these times that we, as friends, can step in and show up. We can give care to our care-giving friend, which can go a long way to help him/her keep their energy positive and stay well. It is a time when we can show that “I am with you in this.”

There are all kinds of ways to be supportive and stay connected with friends in a way that is comfortable for us and helpful to them. Offering our time and our ears to listen are gifts in themselves. Here are some other possibilities that I have found helpful in my life:

We can acknowledge that we need help. Sharing what we are going through can be helpful in letting our friend know that we are feeling stressed. Thinking about and asking for the kinds of support that will help us is a radical act of vulnerability and intimacy, the kind that brings friendships closer.

We can offer practical help and support in terms of running errands and doable actions. 
It might be offering to pick up or deliver the dry cleaning, return library books or videos that are due, mow the lawn or shovel the sidewalk, pick up the mail or water the houseplants, feed the cat or dog, or go grocery shopping for them.

We can feed our friends and their family by preparing or dropping off easy-to-reheat meals, offering a home-made treat made with them in mind.

We can pay a visit to our friend and their loved one. It does not need to be long, even a brief visit will give a burst of joy and caring to a friend.

We can invite our friend and their family member to a movie, to an amusement or
show, for a meal, over for the holidays. Extending an invite to include a friend’s family member is a generous, caring gesture that will be cherished and remembered, even if it does not happen.

We can accompany our friend when they visit their relative in a health or residential care setting. Care settings can be stressful environments and sometimes just being there  with our friend during a visit is support enough. Or we can connect with our friend for a conversation afterward to find out how the visit(s) went.

We can connect via Skype or speakerphone with our friend and their relative. Technology can be really helpful to stay connected. Saying hello to your friend’s relative can make a huge difference and put a smile on everyone’s face.

We can offer to connect with or check in on their family member when they are away
(so that they can go away with added peace of mind).

We can share something that we think will make them laugh: a joke, a cartoon, a

These are just some ideas and suggestions. Each situation is unique, sometimes we might have to think outside the box and be creative. Even discussing this with a friend, asking them to choose out of a few options that are doable for you, will be a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge this time of need for support and connection.It can bring friends closer together, to bond in a special new way, perhaps to become family.

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

~ Brene Brown

Our Story…kind of a *slow burn* friendship journey.

Amy’s story: Our friendship began long before The Smart Art of Friendship…our journey started in February 2007 when we met at a coaches training workshop called *Fulfillment*. We both felt a connection and expressed it but lost touch with each other following that weekend.

Coincidentally, we both showed up nine months later to participate in the final coaching workshop weekend called *In The Bones*. That was in November 2007. It was incredible to complete the coaching adventure as part of the same group. I remember feeling delighted to see Ruth when I walked into this coaching weekend. We exchanged information (again!) and agreed to meet up socially on our own. We met at the *Queen Mother* one summer night in 2008. We sat outside and enjoyed a conversation full of stories. What I remember most was a feeling of warmth. You know, like an energetic hug. And then we lost touch again due in large part to major events in our lives including family loss and career transitions.

In 2011, again completely by chance, we ran into each other at a Book Salon organized by a colleague for professionals focused on personal growth and mental health. This was the first time either of us was able to attend the Book Salon and we were both very surprised and thrilled to see the other. I remember feeling a magnetic kind of pull to sit next to and talk to Ruth. At this point it was clear to both of us that something kept bringing us together over and over…for some reason! 

In the fall of 2012, we began collaborating on creating workshops focused on the topic of friendship. We wanted to explore ways to tune-up our friendships. We were curious to learn more about the long term health benefits of friendship.

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2013 ~ At the Distillery District in Toronto

Out of our workshop development and delivery experiences, we brainstormed ideas for new possibilities and out of this grew our collaborative blog writing idea. The Smart Art of Friendship was born. Our first blog post was about the importance of healthy, supportive friendships, especially during life’s many transitions.

Since our 2011 reconnection, we have met many times, both personally and professionally. We have explored ideas, museums, the Toronto Island and the many aspects of friendship.

2013 ~ On the streets of San Francisco.

2013 ~ On the streets of SF.

We have weathered both internal and external *storms*. We have worked through conflict and differences. It has been an incredible adventure! I know I have learned about myself in connection to Ruth. I have faced parts of myself that are not, shall we say, pretty. And I have also seen my strengths reflected in the power of our collaboration.

In 2013, again coincidentally, we were both in San Francisco. I was there to visit family and Ruth was there for learning and adventure. We had the chance to connect in SF and she got to meet *the red-heads*. It was very special to me, that we shared that time away from home together. 

Recently, we have both been through intense loss in our families. We have needed time off from writing this blog. We have both needed to heal and regroup. And what I have felt is Ruth’s immense respect for her own process and mine.

Ruth’s Story: My friendship with Amy feels like it was inevitable; we kept bumping into each other until finally we just couldn’t ignore it! It started with taking the same coaches training program however, unlike many participants who took the five workshops consecutively, Amy and I each chose to register for the trainings months apart, in our own time. So the fact that we found ourselves finishing the training together was a total fluke — nine months later. Pregnant pause. I remember the moment in the workshop when we re-discovered each other and how Amy acknowledged it with a lift of her eyebrows, that thing she does.

I think that we both paid close attention to this and made plans to get together. Amy was taking a Leadership Training program and I was curious to hear all about it. When we got together on that resto patio in Toronto she shared her learning and we had a wonderful conversation. And then life got in the way with several life and career events that pulled us apart again only for years this time.

Three years later, we bumped into each other at the Professionals’ Book Salon and I remember feeling compelled to connect with Amy. What was this that we kept bumping into each other?! We obviously had a lot in common: learning, personal growth, professional development, collaboration, reading, humour, being on the growing and innovative edge, and we liked groups! Getting together this time was a huge “catch-up” and quite organically we talked about how our professional work connected to the other’s – people going through career, health and residential transitions can have friendship and relationship challenges, people experiencing friendship transitions, friendship challenges as we get older and how having healthy friendships keep us healthy too. Our conversation(s) evolved into how we could collaborate professionally.

Being peers, then friends and finally professional colleagues presents with its own challenges too. Dealing with all the usual sources of conflict – differences in opinion, personality differences, time management style differences, communication differences – are wonderful fodder for building our friendship while simultaneously writing for The Smart Art of Friendship!

So now it is exactly eight years since we met and Amy has become a cherished and trusted friend who has been there with me through sad, tough and joyful moments.Thank you Amy!

Eight years. Thank you Ruth. Thank you for being you and for allowing me to be me!