Want to help a caregiver whose life is busy, busy, busy? Here’s how!
During this week’s Coffee Chat—our brand new virtual support group that takes place Mondays at 11ET on Instagram Live—we talked about what kind of help is actually helpful for caregivers, and why it’s so hard to get it.
We first posted this article in February 2020, right before the world shut down. How times have changed since then! But the advice we shared here? It hasn’t changed at all. Caregivers still need help. Caregivers still want help. But caregivers get a little triggered by kind offers from well-meaning people—and here’s the main reason why.
Because it feels like more work.
When caregivers hear these age-old phrases—“How can I help?” or “Let me know if I can do anything!”—our initial internal reaction is STRESS. Because the thought of coming up with helpful tasks feels like extra work, and extra work is something no caregiver wants. We want someone to lighten our load, not add to it!
Now don’t misunderstand: We are generally thankful for the offers. We appreciate that you see our need for help and want to provide it. But we need you to make it a little easier for us. And sometimes, we just need a little more time to think about it! As caregivers, we need to say that. “Thanks for your offer, can I get back to you with some ideas? And can you check in with me in a week if I forget?”
So caregivers, next time someone asks you *THE QUESTION,* refer to these 5 simple suggestions. And if you’re reading this as a person who wants to help a caregiver, thank you for your willingness; we hope you find these ideas helpful!
#1: Bring us a meal.
An oldie but a goodie: make us a meal! Or make a couple of meals for me to stack in my freezer, or send gift cards for GrubHub, UberEATS, or our favorite local pizzeria. Planning meals is often the last thing we want to squeeze into our busy day, which leads to lots of unhealthy dinners like frozen pizzas—or even worse, skipping meals altogether.
#2: Come visit us.
Offer to sit with our caree for a few hours while I run errands. Don’t feel comfortable with that? Just stop by for a visit when I’m there (if we’re all up for visitors that day)! Caregiving can be extremely lonely, so it’s a huge help to see friendly faces and welcome visitors! It’s equally as refreshing to have someone take over so I can get a few items checked off my to-do list.
#3: Fill our (gas) tanks.
If you really want to do something of monetary value for us, a gas gift card is always appreciated! There’s a lot of driving involved in caregiving, and it adds up. And financial pressures add to our already heavy caregiving load.
#4: Bring us groceries (treats included).
With online shopping now available in almost all areas—and with a variety of pick-up, drive-up or delivery options—this is an easy way to help that makes a HUGE difference!
Think of how much work it is to grocery shop…
It starts with planning: thinking about meals and snacks, then assessing what you need, taking note of what you’ve run out of, and jotting it down.
Then you have to figure out when to go, and depending on your caregiving situation, this can be a logistical challenge. Who can stay with your caree, if they need supervision? Or do you bring the person along, which comes with its own challenges? Some caregivers opt to shop at night when a spouse, partner, or child can stay home with the person you care for—but that often means shopping on tired legs and with a weary mind.
Now that you’ve figured out when to go, you have to drive there, go inside, fill your cart, empty your cart on the belt, load the bags in your cart, bring them out to your car, load them in your car, drive home, bring the bags into the house, then put the groceries away.
And then, of course, make a list of the things you forgot, because that inevitably happens, right?!
When you break down all the steps, you realize how much work is involved—and why it would be SUCH a help for someone to step in on this necessary life activity. (It also makes the case for paying the nominal delivery fee for those services, if you ask me!)
#5: Update others for us.
Offer to update others when something big happens. This one is a little tricky in terms of privacy, but it can still be super helpful.
The key word here is “offer.” Never give updates on my caregiving life without checking with me first. But if you know something big just happened (new diagnosis, a fall, change of living situation or school depending on age, a death or similar big loss/change in the family, etc.), ask me if I could help with letting others know.
Who are those “others?” Those are the people who would love to hear the latest on my caree but don’t necessarily need to hear it from me directly—i.e. my pastor, neighbors, boss/coworkers, friends I haven’t talked to in a while, to name a few.
It’s emotionally exhausting to repeat the same information — especially bad news — over and over again, so having someone offer to take on that task provides a huge sense of relief.