We all have a friend or two who’s constantly bailing on plans at the last minute. Or showing up late. Eventually, we give up and stop bothering to invite them.

But what if that friend isn’t just flaky. What if they’re staying home to watch their little brother who requires 24/7 care? Or a grandmother with dementia? Or a parent going through chemo? If you’re not sure what’s going on with your friend, here’s where to start. So often people are afraid to ask their friends for help or burden them with their problems. Reach out to the people you care about when they start to pull away.

Serving as a caregiver, at least sporadically, seems to be a nearly universal task, yet so many people don’t seem to understand what it’s like. Being a long-term caregiver to someone with significant needs is very different from a parent caring for an ill child for a week or two, but it’s more socially acceptable to cancel plans for a kid with a cold than a chronically ill spouse.

We asked people who help regularly how they felt about canceling plans. Nearly universally, caregivers wish they could get out and see their friends more. Even if they can’t, they appreciate being invited.

Helping to make it easier for them to attend — by choosing plans they could bring their loved one to or helping to find someone to provide care — is very much appreciated. There are lots of simple ways to lend a hand and help them free up some time.

It’s not because I don’t want to go out; it’s due to me being exhausted from being a caregiver. – Lorne S.

I’m scared to make plans because I’ve had to cancel or back out of so much! – Sue A.

Even if you do go, you feel guilty, afraid “something” will go wrong if your not there. – Paula H.

I always say it’s easier to get baby sitters for a toddler than it is for a disabled elderly adult. – Delyth E.

My husband’s condition means not making it to all sorts of things. It’s just how it is. Given the choice between being able to go to all those events or having the life I have with my hubby, I’d choose him every time. – Helen C.

I actually can make it to lots of things but just have been dropped due to everyone thinking I can’t with my mom on hospice. – Doris S.

It’s hard to make plans anymore or go places because I’m tired all time and can’t get any of my so called family to help. They always have excuses after excuses. – Karen J.

It’s frustrating to not be able to go and I’m sorry that I can’t. But it’s good to know that people are thinking about me enough to invite me. – Ryan E.

I’m so accustomed to an emergency trumping any plans that I rely on buying opera/theater tickets from a season ticket holder at the door, I never want to carpool with other people, and pre/post event dinners are like my vacation: something I haven’t done since 2002. – Yenelli A.

My friends haven’t had to help anyone. Sometimes they think I’m just blowing them off. – Tim H.

I often feel like I’m letting people down, that they will in fact cease inviting me because I seem uninterested or at worst unreliable. I want so badly to attend and mean to go, but if my husband needs me I must decline. I fell bad, but I can’t leave him when he needs me. – Karen B.

People get upset with you when you can’t attend an event, even though that event is exactly where you would love to be. – Marlene M.

Even though my husband can stay alone, I feel guilty if I’m gone too long…it’s always something. I love him very much! – Susan L.

I respond with “I presently can” as my calendar is a moving target. – Julie D.

Both my husband and I are caregivers at work and at home and there is never enough time to just be by ourselves. – Barbara M.

Somehow, some way one MUST find a way to take care of themselves…to take a break; to restore some semblance of balance and space. Consider yourself equally important to the one who needs your care. Ask for help. – Marlene A.

I get so lonely at times. I see my pals out having fun and wish i was with them or just able to leave but not enough money or time. – Adriana E.

As a professional caregiver, my plans often pushed back due to staff absenteeism. I need to provide coverage on short notice. – Lotomai T.

I can’t remember the last time my husband and I did anything just the two of us. – Joy Z.

We miss out on a lot of things but family comes first. Please don’t give up on me. – Marcie K.

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