When it comes to taking care of their loved ones with medical conditions, family caregivers have a tough time prioritizing their own well-being. And Self-care alone just won’t cut it. If you know someone in the family caregiver role, we’ve got your back with a guide that will show you how to be there for them in ways that truly matter.
Caring for a caregiver is a unique dance that depends on your relationship with them and their specific caregiving situation. So, what we’re about to share aren’t rigid rules etched in stone; they come straight from the experiences of Team Glaucomflecken. We hope that these insights will give you concrete ideas on how to support the caregivers in your life – whether they’re neighbors, friends, or family members.
1. HELP WITHOUT ASKING
Sometimes, family caregivers might put on a brave face and insist they don’t need help. They don’t want the person they care for to feel guilty because they are struggling. But you can lend a hand without waiting for a formal request.
Here are some simple yet significant acts of kindness you can do to make a caregiver’s life a little brighter:
🛒 Errand Elf: You’re already running some errands, so why not help your caregiver friend? This might sound like, “Hey, I’m running some errands and will drop off some snacks. Text me a list if you are running low on milk or other groceries, and I’ll grab those while I’m out. I can drop everything off on the front step if now is not a good time for me to stop by.”
🧺 Laundry Guru: Ah, unfolded clean laundry. The Achilles’ heel of many caregivers’ lives. Next time you drop off snacks, why not tackle that basket of towels? While folding away, you can engage in some good old-fashioned banter: two birds, one laundry basket.
🧼 Dish Dishin’: Notice dirty dishes in the sink? You don’t need a neon sign to tell you they’re begging to be cleaned. Roll up those sleeves, unleash your inner dishwashing hero, and start loading up that dishwasher.
🙌 Visiting Victory: If you can visit with the person the caregiver cares for, consider this a golden opportunity. Suggest to the caregiver, “Hey, if you want to take a break or get some me-time while we hang out, feel free!” This way, they can step away from their caregiver role for a while.
🌺 Flower Savior: A wilting flower pot on the front step is not just a metaphor for how tired caregivers can feel. If you notice those blooms are in dire need of water, grab that watering can and fix the situation. The theme here is that if you see something that needs doing, just do it!
Remember, caregivers often need a gentle nudge to let others lend a hand. So, be that nudge, that superhero sidekick who swoops in to make their day a little brighter.
2. RECOGNIZE THE CAREGIVER’S EXPERIENCE
For family caregivers, mentally and emotionally processing their loved one’s health condition while shouldering the responsibilities of being a caregiver can be overwhelming. We’ve found the “explain, name, and validate” model helpful to make this journey a little easier.
If your beloved caregiver is a “need-to-know” kind of person, we suggest sharing links and articles with them. Or you could send them books that can provide the words they need to explain what their loved one is going through or what they are experiencing as a family caregiver. Reading can bring comfort in the stillness of the night when worries creep up or when they can’t turn off their busy schedule to rest.
Sometimes, caregivers feel guilty for experiencing emotional reactions related to an illness that isn’t in their bodies. By reframing these reactions as familiar to others, we can help caregivers understand that they are not alone in their experience.
Using labels like co-patient and co-survivor of medical events and illnesses may be powerful names for their experiences.
This might sound like:
💕 “As a co-patient, staying in the hospital with your loved one and experiencing all of the noises and medical events is a lot to process.”
💕 “As a co-survivor, you have experienced this illness, too, just not in your body.”
When you’re a caregiver, your emotions can run the gamut from kindness, fear, sadness, disgust, anger, love, frustration, nostalgia, regret, uncertainty, and sympathy. Sometimes, it’s just too much to handle alone.
To help caregivers feel supported, we suggest sending validating text messages. Sometimes, there are things a caregiver doesn’t want to say out loud in front of their loved one. Texting can open up a conversation and a connection to the outside world, especially during wild, complex, sad, gross, funny, frustrating, silly, and unbelievable times.
For example, a caregiver might find changing the dressing on their loved one’s wound gross, but they do it with love and compassion. Having someone to text about these experiences can help to process them. Texting validating messages like, “OMG, that is awful, you are so strong to be able to do that, I love you” can provide much-needed support.
These messages help the caregiver know they are not alone and that finding certain aspects of caregiving challenging is okay. It validates that they are not a horrible person for having these experiences. It is crucial to acknowledge the difficulty of their journey and be empathetic to the often intense and overwhelming situations they face.
3. GO THE EXTRA MILE FOR END-OF-LIFE CAREGIVERS
Visiting someone at the end of their life who is being cared for by a family member is a bit like visiting a new parent with a newborn. It’s a delicate situation that requires some extra care and consideration.
The person nearing the end of their life may have always been one to play the gracious host and want their visitors treated to some food and drink. But here’s the thing – the family caregiver is already on their last legs from taking care of their dying loved one, not to mention dealing with their grief. So, let’s not burden them with playing host, too.
Bring a little something with you, like coffee, tea, or cookies. Even if the person at the end of their life cannot partake, they can still appreciate that their guests are being cared for. And trust me, you’ll ease the caregiver’s load by doing so.
Make sure you plan to get emotional support for yourself when you leave. Don’t go dumping all your grief onto the caregiver on your way out. They’re already juggling their emotional exhaustion and grief. Find someone else – a friend, a therapist, whoever – you can lean on after your visit.
4. PUT IT IN WRITING
Healthcare professionals have an essential role in supporting family caregivers. You can lighten their load by providing vital information in writing and ensuring they know the appropriate ways to communicate with the care team. Trust us, this will make a world of difference for them. Clear instructions, useful resources, and open communication channels will give caregivers the support and guidance they need.
RESOURCES FOR CAREGIVERS:
- Share the Care: This organization provides a comprehensive approach to creating and maintaining a caregiving network. Their website offers guidance, tools, and practical resources for caregivers.
- Negative Space: The Negative Space website aims to change the way caregivers are seen and supported. Acknowledging their challenges, they offer direct services, education, and support to make them feel less alone. Supporters play a vital role in encouraging caregivers, and they provide simple ways and caregiver gift boxes to reinforce appreciation.
- Family Caregiver Alliance: The Family Caregiver Alliance offers an extensive range of resources, information, and support for caregivers. Their website provides educational materials, support groups, and a caregiver’s journey section that addresses various caregiving-related topics.