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How to help a friend with a stroke

August 17, 2013 3:28 am



Stroke will change your friendships, especially since we all cope differently with grief and trauma.

If you’re close to a young adult stroke survivor, it’s important to remember it’s not the just body that changes. Stroke survivors’ personalities change, as can their priorities and entire outlook on life. The range of emotions they experience is vast, constantly evolving and likely up and down (especially if the survivor has PBA).

It may not make sense to the friend of a stroke survivor… But it is to be expected. It is healthy. And it is okay.

From my experience as a caregiver, when hardship arises, your true friends will step up and really carry you through days that you don’t think will ever end, and the deep sadness that you don’t think will ever subside. Friends also make mistakes, and it can be difficult for some friends to understand what you’re enduring as a stroke survivor or caregiver.

I have some of the most wonderful, supportive, loving and thoughtful friends I could ever need. Caregiving became the toughest time in my life, too. And the generosity and compassion from our loved ones, and new friends who came out of the woodwork, was a true bright spot in those dark times.

If you’re not sure how to be there or what to say, here are some ideas, inspired by my friends and family:

  • Call and ask how your friend is doing… even when he seems to be doing better. Never stop asking how he’s doing, even years down the line.
  • Listen. You don’t need to have the best advice in the world or any advice at all. Be there and just listen when your friend needs to talk, cry, shout, laugh, vent, or all of the above. Here are 5 things not to say to someone with a stroke.
  • Instead of asking what you can do, just do it!
    • If you see your friend’s driveway needs shoveling in the winter, pick up that shovel and go.
    • If you see your friend is getting burned off of hospital food, drop off a dinner or two.
    • Dirty bathrooms… During those initial home-from-the-hospital days, my Mom came over with gloves on and cleaning supplies and got it done.
    • Need a ride. Young stroke survivors often cannot drive, and need rides more than ever because if they’re lucky, they will be undergoing extensive physical therapy at a rehab center. Offer your friend a ride.
  • Send a card in the mail saying you’re thinking of your friend. We got so many cards from so many people, even strangers.
  • Spend time with your friend if he is open to it, doing what he wants and what what comforts him. Drew loves watching punk rock shows. One night during the wheelchair days, his friends surprised him and took him in to see one of his favorite childhood bands. They got him out of the house and did something that was fun and familiar.
  • Make new traditions. When Drew couldn’t drive yet, and was stuck at home in a wheelchair while healing, our best friend William would come over each week and have dinner with us. We would watch bad reality TV all cozy on the couch and laugh our faces off. We had our new little family dinner night.
  • Throw a benefit using your talents. This is a tall order, but it was a lifeline for us. Drew is a musician as are many of his very talented friends (i.e. Rock the Stroke!). They threw him a benefit concert with a handful of their bands that brought thousands of people in for Drew. The night was one of the most touching nights I’ve ever experienced; seeing everybody there to support us, giving so much love, and the check that came as a result helped carry us through Drew’s (unfair) job loss. We couldn’t have predicted how badly we would need that money. Note: a benefit doesn’t have to be on such a large scale. It could be a small bake sale… Justin Malek, Brian Southhall, Jason Navarro, Ramona Roa Shureb, you are sweeter than homemade chocolate chip cookies.
  • Be strong when your friend needs you and when his body is changing and healing. With the whole stroke, body changing thing, you have to become comfortable with your friend’s discomfort, and be there for him when accidents happen. If he wets his pants, help him to the bathroom. If he falls, help pick his ass up quickly (And don’t forget to check for any cuts and bruises, especially if he is on the blood thinner Coumadin). Hello, Mike Ross.
  • Call ahead to see what the accommodations are like for people with disabilities. Going to the movies, a concert, a restaurant? Call ahead and make sure there are accommodations for people with disabilities. Many stroke survivors have incontinence issues and need to be close to a bathroom. They need ramps and elevators and no steps for God’s sake. Figure out where good parking is as well. Bouncers will often let you skip the line, show you to special bathrooms and even give you your own section. You just have to plan ahead. Learned that the hard way (Louis C.K. at the Masonic Temple in Detroit blew “a bag of dicks”). Ohh, and if venues or public places are not accommodating, don’t be afraid to drop, “Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you are required by law to accommodate me and my friend. Do it or you are breaking the law.”
  • Stand by your friend, literally. When wheeling or walking in large crowds, your friend is likely to be slower after a stroke. Walk beside him, and be patient. If the crowd is crowding him, tell them to step the fuck off! If you’re pushing your friend in a wheelchair, and the crowd gets too close, maybe their heels might get clipped by the wheelchair ; )

When your friends aren’t there for you

Some “friends” may internalize your situation. The reality of the hardship and possibility that it could happen to them at such a young age might scare them off completely.

Or they might even criticize you and how you’re handling your journey. This hurts at a time when you need love and compassion. You most likely don’t need these people.

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