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Do This, Not That, If You Want to Help a Stuck Friend

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I believe I have been a member of the so-called, "Sandwich Generation" long enough now to declare it the Worst. Euphemism. Ever.

Caring for aging parents and young children simultaneously is more like being placed on the medieval torture device known as, "The Rack."

You, your family and your life are slowly, painfully pulled apart.

You go from a care plan meeting for your aging parent to the pick-up line at your child's elementary school. From dropping your daughter off at Kindergarten to the hospital. You can't remember if you put on deodorant. Paid the cable bill. Turned on the Crockpot.

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You say good morning and goodnight to your child via Facetime from your parent's home, the hospital, a hospice facility. Your spouse texts you to say how empty the house feels without you.

When you are with one loved one, you are constantly thinking about how you are failing to meet the needs of another. When you crawl into bed late at night, you remember all the things you forgot to do and mentally kick yourself.

You think of everyone you could possibly ask for some type of help, and feel guilty for having to reach out. But you are desperate, because you can't get everything done that needs to be done, no matter how hard you try.

You reach levels of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion you never thought possible. My postpartum hormones had nothing on the roller coaster ride I am on these days.

You are being pulled in too many directions at the same time, all the time.

When your spouse is dealing with these issues at the same time? You live in one very stressed-out household. And most days, you are not the parent you want to be. The daughter you believe you should be. Or the wife you wish you could be.

You are being pulled in too many directions at the same time, all the time.

If you know someone in this situation, here is a short list of do's and don'ts, if you're goal is to be kind, sensitive and helpful.

1. Instead of saying, "Be sure to take time for you..."

When people say this to me, I laugh maniacally. While I know they mean well, and there is, in fact, merit to this statement, the idea of taking time for me is nothing more than a pipe dream. The reality is I can't find enough time to do everything that needs to be done for others. I am constantly operating in survival mode and hanging on for dear life. Self-care is not on the To-Do list, as much as I'd love for it to be.

... ask, "How can I help?"

There are many ways to offer assistance: child and/or pet care; house cleaning; laundry; meals; shopping; transportation. Count on the fact the person stuck in the middle needs something. And may not know how to ask for it or be comfortable doing so. So make it easy. Step forward. Let your friend know specifically when and how you can be available to help. Make sure she has all your contact information. Ask more than once. Check in periodically, because the situation and needs will change over time.

2. Instead of saying, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger..."

No one needs or wants to hear this platitude. Ever. I will confess, I am guilty of having uttered it to others in the past. And now I feel I need to apologize to each person who had to hear me say it. Profusely. Because it is neither helpful nor reassuring, regardless of intentions.

... offer a hug

Or a listening ear. A shoulder to cry on. A certificate for a pedicure or massage to use after the crisis is over. Say, "I'm here for you." "You're doing an amazing job." Send a card. Have flowers and food delivered. If your friend's loved one is dealing with a specific health condition or disease, and there is a related charity she cares deeply about, make a donation.

You can't help your friend down from The Rack. But there are plenty of ways to ease the pressure.

3. Instead of declaring, "This too shall pass…"

Of course it will. When the parent dies. Which is something your friend dreads and, when things get really bad, wishes for. It's a strange, uncomfortable place to be. You desperately want the crisis to pass, recognize it will, but also know there will be an entirely new set of emotions and responsibilities involved.

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... be a friend

You already know how to do that, and it doesn't take any extra time or effort. Just do what you always do and be there for your friend in the ways that have been meaningful in the past. Your friend may want to talk about everything that is going on, or could prefer to forget about it for a little while and simply visit. Follow her lead. Many times, she just wants to feel normal, even if it's only for a few minutes.

You can't help your friend down from The Rack. But there are plenty of ways to ease the pressure. And they will all be appreciated.

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