By Pam Molnar
The job of caring for elderly or sick family members can require a full time physical, emotional and often times, financial commitment. Many caregivers must juggle their new responsibility with raising a family, holding down a job and maintaining a household.
Take time to honour the caregivers you know, whether they are a family member, friend, neighbour or co-worker. By showing them your support, you are taking away a bit of their burden, sadness, guilt or pain, if only for a moment. Not sure how you can help? Check out these 12 suggestions below.
1. Give them much needed time off. Offer to sit in their place while they attend their child’s game or spouse’s work dinner. You can drive to routine doctor appointments, take their patient on a small outing or simply be on call for the day in the caregiver’s place.
2. Make them a home cooked meal. The caregiver often lets their own health go while taking care of their loved one. As you plan your own dinner, make a double batch to take over to the caregiver’s house. Use disposable containers and deliver the meal ready to eat. If you are not a cook yourself, offer the family a restaurant gift certificate so they can enjoy family time alone.
3. Offer to do a task. Caregivers have their hands full with their patient and the immediate needs of their family. Everything else takes a back seat. Don’t offer a general “let me know what I can do to help.” Instead, if you specifically offer to shop, mow the lawn, walk the dogs or handle a carpool, they will most likely take you up on it.
4. Write a handwritten note of encouragement. During this stressful and often sad time in the caregiver’s life, they need to be reminded that they are doing their best. Your letter will most likely be read and reread when the caregiver has a quiet moment and needs an extra pick me up. They might also enjoy you sharing a memory of their loved one during better times.
5. Bring awareness. While the caregiver is busy taking care of their sick patient, their friends and supporters might like to donate time and money to their cause. Gather people for a Relay for Life, organize a fundraiser in support of breast cancer awareness or sponsor a golf outing with the proceeds going to their cause. Check with the caregivers for local needs or support the hospital where treatment
is being received.
6. Make a de-stress basket. Include favourites for the caregiver like wine, homemade baked goods, magazines, a gift certificate or spa items. Either present as one large gift or spread it out for a week by sending a little gift each day.
7. Bring the party to them. If the caregiver has to routinely cancel plans in order to stay home with their loved one, have the event at their house. The caregiver’s friends will clean before and after, bring food and drink and provide entertainment. Even an hour long party will brighten the caregiver’s day.
8. Offer your expertise. Most of the caregiver’s responsibilities will be new to her. If you are a nurse, offer to help administer medication. Estate planners or lawyers may also want to answer questions that come up. Friends that have served as caregivers in the past can be the best guides during this process.
9. Be the shoulder to cry on. Sometimes the caregiver just needs to vent about their patient, the doctors, the health care system or the unfairness of it all. Often the caregiver wants someone to just listen and sympathize, but not necessarily propose a solution. In other words, he or she just needs a friend.
10. Keep inviting. Long-term caregivers feel like their friends have forgotten them after the first few months in their new position. The cards, care packages and invitations quit coming. Extend the invites to parties as well as for a walk in the neighbourhood. If she says no, don’t badger. Instead, offer a rain check and ask again next time. Eventually she will take you up on it.
11. Keep the caregiver smiling. Send a funny card in the mail. Email a daily joke. Send a text of a silly picture or meme. Try to break the cycle of seriousness if only for a moment. It shows the caregiver that you are still thinking about her.
12. Help to fill the gap. A long-time caregiver’s job often ends due to the death of their patient. When that happens, there will be a large hole in their life. Not only did their loved one pass away but their identity as a caregiver and daily routine has come to an abrupt end. Offer your support to help them get back on their feet and find a new normal.
Pam Molnar is a freelance writer and daughter of a caregiver. She knows how much stress it puts on a family hopes that caregivers get the recognition they deserve.