While caregivers all have good intentions, we sometimes find ourselves listening only half-heartedly. All too often we’re doing a hundred other things, or our mind is elsewhere when we should be actively listening. We hear what a loved one is saying but are not consciously listening with the purpose of understanding.
Be authentically interested. Actively listen by paying attention to anything and everything that they are trying to communicate to us. This is about more than just listening to words. It’s using both our ears and our eyes. As the disease progresses, language skills diminish and so do their words. Focus on all of the ways that people communicate – conversations, body language, sounds, gestures, and emotions.
Taking those few extra minutes to give them our full-undivided attention, and responding with a genuine interest, confirms that they are still valued. It conveys that what they believe and think really does matter. And, that they matter to us, too.
Caregivers are often juggling the responsibilities of running households, holding down jobs as well as managing all the personal affairs for at least two people, sometimes more. There are meals to plan, shopping, errands to run, doctor’s appointments, cooking, cleaning, and endless lists of chores. However, not paying attention can consume time and create new challenges.
Times that we hear words but don’t really listen also prevent us from asking the right questions or having the necessary information to communicate effectively as well as compassionately. We tend to speak before we think, and we react rather than respond appropriately.
We’ve all done it. One Saturday morning, my Dad and I were at a community arts festival at a local park. Originally, I had planned to go alone. I didn’t really have the time to go but was looking for a specific item. Dad insisted on going and promised he would keep up with me. I knew he loved going places, so I agreed. That was my first mistake.
We had been there about fifteen minutes when Dad asked if I knew where the bathrooms were located. Even if I had been more familiar with the park, there were over 200 booths laid out in and around the trees, in a giant maze. Being short on time, I didn’t stop to ask any questions but just turned on my heels and hurried off toward the large building. That was my second mistake. Many of the rows of vendors were dead ends, which just hastened our search. We finally arrived to find that there weren’t any restrooms as it was only a maintenance building. Then we discovered that the toilets were in the opposite direction from which we had been going.
Finally, after rushing around for 10 minutes or so (it really seemed like an hour), we ended up in a parking area where about 20 portable toilets were located. This was not what I expected.
Turning to my dad I asked, “Can you use one of these?”
“For what?” he said.
“I thought you said you had to go to the bathroom?”
“I don’t have to go! I thought you needed to go after all that coffee you drank this morning.”
I wasn’t sure whether to laugh, cry, or scream. To say the least, it was definitely a frustrating moment. And it was all my fault. I never took the time to ask him any questions. Instead I had just reacted. Never would I have done the same thing with my sons when they were young or any of my grandchildren. Any normal mother interrogates them first. Can you wait? How bad do you have to go? Why didn’t you go before we left?
That morning, I learned many lessons. Hurrying will always take longer. Don’t make assumptions. Fathers like to be helpful. And, that there is a distinct difference between hearing words and sounds, versus listening and understanding a message.