Five ways to be a caregiver’s cheerleader

Sona Mehring of CaringBridge
Sona Mehring of CaringBridge

In 1998, my mother, Bonnie, was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, and in 2001 she was stricken with liver cancer.

As a nurse, my mother was the one providing care for others. She was even a caregiver for her mother, my Grandma Bessie, before she passed away in 1997 at age 94.

But with her own cancer diagnosis, my mom was the one who needed a caregiver. She came to live with my family while she underwent surgery and treatment for both cancer battles.

It was fantastic and a joy to have her right there with me — something I would never change — but it was also incredibly stressful, emotionally and physically draining and unnerving.

Caregivers need their own unique support from family and friends.

Here are what I consider to be the five best ways to be a caregiver’s cheerleader:

1. Build a support team.

Caregiving can be relentless, exhausting and overwhelming. Every caregiver needs a short list of close friends and family they can lean on for help. Take the first step of helping them build a short list of cheerleaders and make sure your name is at the top of that list.

Use the list of names and divvy up daily tasks and errands by creating a schedule. My loved ones consistently delivered meals, purchased groceries, spent time with my kids, walked the dog, helped with yard and housework, and had specific visit “Mom” times.

Once it’s on a schedule, it’s less overwhelming.

Resources like The Carry Crew Concept book and workbook ( can equip you with the tools to build a team of cheerleaders who can provide this practical help.

2. Navigate the unknown.

There’s never one right answer to anything. For most, the act of caregiving is uncharted territory, which for me was very unnerving — I like to have answers. Being a supportive sounding board can help any caregiver navigate important decisions and issues.

There’s a wealth of information and resources online. However, sifting through all that information and researching the best resources can be daunting for a caregiver who most likely has a job and family of their own.

Do the research for them and provide a list of the best information and tools that can help with their situation. The Caregiver Action Network ( is a good place to start.

3. Take the focus off physical care.

Some of my favorite moments caring for my mother were when my friends got to know her. The shared stories, laughter and camaraderie between my friends and mother were so special.

Those times weren’t about the physical care; they were about loving relationships.

The connection between my friends and my mother made asking for help that much easier. It also became a wonderful shared experience between my mother and our cheerleaders.

Today we often reminisce, with a smile, about the shared moments we had with my mother.

4. Find humor.

Provide caregivers with some respite and help them step away to find the humor in life’s struggles. Regardless of how strong and positive caregivers try to be, daily life can involve sadness and suffering. Laughter truly is the best medicine.

By taking time with friends, doing the things I enjoyed, I found myself laughing more, which in turn brought more laughter into caring for my mother.

Laughter has also been found to reduce pain and stress, as well as release endorphins, which can bring positive changes to one’s mindset.

There’s even an Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor ( that provides resources on how to practice and promote healthy humor and laughter.

5. Ignite the cheering section.

Give caregivers the confidence to openly share their hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, and everything in between. Putting words around experiences and feelings isn’t always easy, but it’s cathartic.

Opening up to those who care ignites a cheering section, creating a caring and supportive community.

I’m not a writer. I’m a software engineer.

But that didn’t stop me from relying on my mother’s CaringBridge website during both her illnesses.

Taking a little time to record my feelings and connect with my friends and family gave me strength and hope.

Now, thanks to hundreds of messages from family and friends still stored on the site, I have a permanent record of my time with my mother that captured the love we all had for her.

Sona Mehring is founder and chief ambassador of the global nonprofit organization, based in Eagan, and author of Hope Conquers All: Inspiring Stories of Love and Healing from CaringBridge (2013). Throughout her career, Mehring has received several honors and awards. Most recently, in 2015, Sona was named a Titan of Technology by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. She was recognized as one of 2011’s Most Influential Women in Technology by Fast Company.


What is CaringBridge?

CaringBridge is an Eagan- based nonprofit organization that helps families set up free personal websites to share important information quickly during any type of health event.

People invite close family and friends to read about their journey on the sites. In return, family and friends can show their love and support by posting encouraging messages.

How did it all start?

In 1997, Sona Mehring’s good friends had a premature baby. When they asked her to let everyone know what was going on with the family and their child, she knew dozens of emotional — and time-consuming — phone calls were ahead of her.

“I decided to create a website,” said Mehring, a software engineer.

That first CaringBridge website allowed friends and family to easily get updates and offer support and encouragement. Word spread, and others began to request their own similar sites.

In 2002, CaringBridge became a nonprofit organization. In 2003, Mehring became the organization’s full-time CEO.

Today, 1 in 9 people in the U.S. have used CaringBridge to rally support for a loved one during a health journey such as a surgery, hospitalization, cancer treatment or other health event.

Indeed, CaringBridge is a household name with 4 million unique monthly visitors — roughly 300,000 people a day, who leave 850 messages for loved ones every hour.

And they get to do it all for free — although donations are encouraged and happily accepted.

Users have created more than half a million advertisement-free CaringBridge websites in the past 19 years with a reach that touches more than 200 countries and territories around the world.

This past February, 54-year-old Mehring, after serving two decades as CEO, named CaringBridge COO, Liwanag Ojala, the new CEO.

Mehring’s new role of chief ambassador will include spreading awareness about CaringBridge and the impact social networks can make on healing.

Learn more at

Click here to read Sona Mehring’s essay on the challenges caregiving.