How do you treat your friends?
I like to think I am a good friend, but in thinking about the relationships I have, every one is different.
- I can talk about fart jokes with one friend and not another.
- One friend and I knit together, another takes me shopping (literally takes me by the hand from store to store. I HATE shopping but sometimes you need to, you know, buy things. If it involves comparison that can't be done on the Internet, my friend who is excellent and patient takes me from store to store until we find what is needed.)
- Another friend is a great encourager. We like to talk about ideas and especially what is happening at my workplace.
- I have a friend who is a counsellor. If I have a question about relationships, she is the one I call.
In each of these friend's lives, I have a different role. Sometimes several different roles. We found each other because we are the sort of people who nourish each other.
My friends are important to me. When they are hurting, their situation crowds my brain, and I storm the gates of heaven with requests for help. When I am hurting, they are there, caring for me. We have fun together, we do things together, we look for ways to bless each other.
How do you treat your friends?
Last week, I wrote that some of my best friends have dementia. The people with whom I partner in care have become my friends, and although the relationships are different, there is all the give and take of friendship. I have learned, however, that this sensitive relationship requires extra care. In order to maintain respect and integrity in our friendship, I have to think about actions I take every day, and be more deliberate in how I treat my friends.
Here are some of the principles I have learned:
- Knock when you enter a room, and wait to be given permission to enter. Even with my best friends, I would never enter their houses without knocking. There may be cultures where that is normal, but not where I was brought up. Although I always knock when I enter a room, I haven't always waited, but when I looked at it from their perspective, knocking without waiting is like not knocking at all. It doesn't give the person the choice to invite me in, it presumes. Who am I to presume? The only exception to this would be the person who is either profoundly deaf and can't hear my knock, or is unable to give me some signal that I can enter. In the first case, I knock as loud as I can, and if I'm not heard, I will step in a few steps until I can be seen, and call. In the latter case, I will knock and then come close to the bed so the person can know I am there.
- I try to sit at eye level or even a little below. If I am standing above the person, it makes for an unequal relationship. Remembering that it's their home, I ask for permission to sit, as well.
- Dr. Power in Dementia Beyond Drugs talks about "centre-ing yourself."People with dementia are amazing at picking up on non-verbal cues. If I am agitated about something, or feeling rushed or even tired, they can often pick up on it. I try to take a few deep breaths and focus on the person I am visiting. This is their time. I am visiting with a friend.
- Listen. Have you ever been with a person who you sense is waiting for you to finish talking so they can talk? My reaction is to close my mouth. If you don't want to listen, then I don't want to talk. I close my mind and my heart as well. No surprise, none of my friends are like that. When I am with one of my friends with dementia, I try to listen closely. People with dementia often wear their emotions close to the surface, and in listening, I give them the gift of hearing what they are really saying.
- Slow down. If I was out walking with my friend, and she sprinted ahead of me, I would be hurt. At first, I might try to keep up, but when it became obvious that I couldn't I would start walking at my own pace. Obviously, we couldn't have conversation if she was miles ahead of me. It's unlikely that we could have friendship. Respect teaches me to slow my thoughts and focus on one thing at a time. My speech should slow a little, too, depending on the person I am talking to. Let them choose the pace, and I will follow.
- Connect. Non-verbal communication is important, and because it's unconscious, it takes effort. I saw a care partner walking down the hall with a resident. The resident was pushing a laundry cart, as they had just delivered the dirty laundry together. Wonderful, meaningful engagement. On the way back, however, the care partner's mind drifted. (I know how easily this can happen.) As they walked together, her face was unsmiling and her arms crossed. The resident hadn't noticed yet, and was greeting people, but to anyone looking on, the care partner's body language was shouting negative messages. I made a gesture and she understood immediately. Make eye contact, smile, speak clearly and watch your body language.
"In fact, as dementia becomes advanced, and verbal comprehension becomes diminished, the non-verbal signals we send take precedence. An elder may not understand your words, but your tone of voice and body language speak volumes."1
How do I treat my friends?
The principles in this blog are taken from Dementia Beyond Drugs by Dr. G. Allen Power, p. 136-138.
1. Power, G. Allen, Dementia Beyond Drugs, p. 138.