What is it that carers need when they are in crisis?


A few days ago I needed to go to the hospital, an hour away, to collect medicines and drop “samples” off for testing. Normally I would have had spare supplies at home, but with my son’s admission last week being cancelled I was left a little behind the 8 ball… unusual these days but of course I am human.

It took longer than expected, but I was pleased to have been granted time to listen to a few podcasts, have a conversation on the phone with my mum, have a cuppa and some breathing space…

As I finally walked out of the hospital and back to my car, my name was called out by a gentleman on a phone who I did not recognise. He definitely knew me. He rapidly hung up the phone, introduced himself as “X’s Dad” and the penny dropped. He is his child’s full-time caregiver.

This is a man in my private Facebook community, Carers Connect.  I had met him briefly by chance at a local fundraiser for a prominent member of my local community.

I stopped and sat down with him and asked how they were all going (son is 15, same age as my boy). He recognised me from the box I was carrying – his son had been on similar medications over the past couple of weeks.  I was shocked however to find out his son had a cardiac arrest just 4 days earlier.  He was in the ICU, he fell and landed on his face, suffered superficial injuries and his brain had been starved of oxygen for 15 minutes – this is a traumatic brain injury. The mum administered CPR until the ambulance arrived.

I sat for around for at least a half an hour talking with this guy. You could see the relief written all over his face, just to have someone to talk to, to listen. I offered no answers, no solutions, right now there are none. It’s shit. No question. There are no words that will make it any better. We talked about support, about past events and the unknown future, we talked about relationships and communication.  I shared some of my experience in dealing with brain injury and the rehabilitation side of things – but only surface stuff.

What this man yearned for is what all of us need in times of chaos, stress, overwhelm and uncertainty. That is, his friends and family to reach out and just let him know they are there. To ask him what he needs, is there anything they can do? Listen to him without assumption and to really SEE him and HEAR him. For them to hold space for his family and him.

There is such fear around support.  The person in crisis may fear being weak, feel guilty about accepting help as it is their responsibility and they fear showing vulnerability.  Loved ones worry they may be overstepping the mark or getting in the way? They are often confused about how to I support the person and don’t know what they need?  Some assume hospital is normal and “they’ll be right”. . .

Please never assume.

Hospital is never normal!
Even if a family have spent most of their child’s life there. Hospital is not normal and it is never okay.

Please reach out.
If they say no, that is okay – at least they know you are there!

You don’t have to have the answers.  But you can:

  1. sit and let them talk, repeat what they have expressed, be honest with them
  2. exercise empathy, you don’t have to understand what it is like, you just need to listen
  3. make them meals (or for their family)
  4. clean the house
  5. do their washing
  6. feed their pets or look after them
  7. take the siblings or children out
  8. have them stay over
  9. run some errands, go shopping for them, pay bills
  10. contact their local support organisation / foundation
  11. contact the local carers support organisation, like Carers Australia, for emergency respite/help OR Carer Gateway for more information
  12. share crisis care numbers with them
  13. send a message and keep in contact
  14. phone them, yup that’s right, give them a call
  15. go visit
  16. take some snacks, magazines, books, pen and paper, games, playing cards etc

You never know what difference you could make to someone’s life… To know that people are holding space for us is a significant comfort and one that should not be underestimated.

It could be the fuel that keeps them going for the next little while.