How you ask is just as important as asking in the first place.
Sitting in the pub with a few friends after work on a normal Friday, inevitably someone would ask:
“How’s your mum doing?”
“Fine” I would say,
“That’s good to hear,”
And the conversation would move on.
The intentions behind the question were undoubtedly good, my friend trying to look out for me and checking up on my mum. But my answer would be the same regardless of how my mum was doing, "fine". I know I have said fine when things were anything but.
I have looked after my mum since I was 13 and there has definitely been some times when I have felt alone, vulnerable and isolated, despite having a great group of friends around me.
And I know that would be upsetting for some of them to hear.
It’s partly because I didn’t always want to talk about it, in fact sometimes it was the last thing I wanted to talk about. And sometimes it was because I didn’t want them to know how bad it was. It’s amazing how much energy you can use sheltering others from the truth.
But it was also partly the way the question was asked. The way, the where and the when.
What might have made the difference for me?
“It might not be a great time now, but let’s organise a time and a place that works for you – I’d really like to hear how you are doing with it all.”
There is never a perfect time to ask, or if there was it would be almost impossible to know when that was. So, it is about recognising that it might not be the right time when you do. So just check.
It’s not to say a pub is not the place to check, some of my friends I only see in the pub! But the realities of supporting a loved one are often very personal and not something that most people want to discuss in a noisy pub. It could be worth grabbing somebody before everybody else arrives, or in a quiet corner, rather than at the bar with strangers crowded round. Or just organise a place that they feel more comfortable in.
Knowing someone cares can be so reassuring, but I know I worried about whether they really did or were just doing it because that’s what they are meant to do.
So make time for it, not just when you happen to see each other. A call or message outside of that can really show you care.
But it can also be a difficult and upsetting conversation to hear the challenge’s friends are facing, especially when there is no easy way to help, but remember just being there to listen is enough.
So I guess it is just about making sure when you ask how someone is doing, take a moment and check that you are doing it in a way that is really giving the support you want it to.
About the author
Kyro Brooks has cared for his mum since he was 13, she suffers from both physical and mental ill health.
Alongside his co-founder, James Townsend, he is running Mobilise, an online platform for those who support a loved one.