A guide to being a good friend
I have learnt more about the value of friendship over the past year than I would ever have thought possible and frequently my breath is taken away by the support and understanding that seems to come in waves. Not one single friend has backed away from us and some, where we've lost touch over the years, have even returned to our lives with gusto. There are phone calls and emails to check we're ok, invitations to meals at the pub, arrangements to meet for coffee and bookings made for weekends away all of which mean that we are able to lead an 'almost normal' life. In fact we are in more of a social whirl now that at any time over the past three or four years and we're enjoying ourselves. I have said before that others report the disappearance of friends as soon as that diagnosis looms into view and my gut feeling here is that much of the time it's because people don't know what to expect or, more importantly, what is expected of them. I appreciate that our friends are extra special but I 'm sure that they aren't the only people in the world who will, given the chance, respond positively to a situation like ours but we do need to give people the tools to do the job properly so here is my guide to being a good friend to those living with dementia. Note that this list is focused not on the person with the diagnosis but the person doing the caring or others members of the family in turmoil because of that diagnosis. It will probably work with other difficult situations too but for the moment I'm focusing on what is affecting us right now and before I start I will say that everything below I have learnt from my friends. These are the things they have done (and continue to do) which make our lives easier and my New Year resolution is to remember the points and use them to help others when needed.
- Don't ignore the situation. Mention it but be as upbeat as you can. Don't just say 'oh' when you hear the news. If you fail to mention the dementia it will be the elephant in the room.
- Telephone and ask how your friend is. To know that you are thinking of them will mean so much and a chat about the outside world will make more difference than you can know.
- Say 'are you free for coffee/lunch on .............?' Sometimes we need a specific date/time not only to make arrangements but to focus us.
- Offer to help with a specific problem. If you have skills or knowledge that can help (and not necessarily with dementia) then offer them. One friend recently came and had coffee with my mum so that Ash and I could go grocery shopping. He needs to go on a certain day and she couldn't walk around the 2 supermarkets, the cheese shop and M & S for coffee afterwards which make our shopping trips manageable. My report on the problem with the GP surgery brought two offers of practical help from people who know far more than I do. Back in May when Ash needed a new truck identical to the one that had fallen apart friends were there to help find one.
- Accept invitations to do something fun. Over the past year I have met a friend in London twice to go to the theatre and we're now looking forward to (at least I am) seeing the new Dolly Parton show 9 - 5. I've also been to see Mama Mia 2 twice, been out for lunch at least twice a month, been to the theatre in our county town twice and any number of other nights out, all with different groups of friends. Very rarely has anyone turned me down and then only when I've tried to pair up the wrong event with the right friends!
- If you've seen your friend's loved one out and about and you've had a chat tell them. To know they are still connecting with the outside world helps.
- If you've seen their loved one out and about and they seem more upbeat than before tell them. It's good to know that other people notice an improvement and we can feel we're doing a reasonable job.
- If you think your friend is doing a great job with anything let them know. They too need to feel good about themselves. Note that it doesn't need to be dementia related. I've had lots of positive comments about this blog from friends which made me very happy and Jake's remark at Christmas about how good the garden was looking made me glow with pride.
- If you used to go away with your friend and his/her other half then assume you still can but ask what changes you need to make to a trip to make it work for everyone.
- If you want to invite the couple over for a meal ask what's needed to make the evening work. In our case everyone knows not to ask Ash questions and this makes all the difference.
- If you've arranged something and your friend arrives on their own acknowledge it but don't make a big deal over it. There may have been stress involved before they got to you.
Please feel free to share this guide. The more friends we have who are confident about their place in our lives the easier that life is.